The time to act is now, or we risk failing our children and young people completely
This week sees the launch of The Fostering Network’s State of the Nation’s Foster Care 2021 report, which brings together the views of both foster carers and fostering services to highlight what’s working – and what isn’t – in the sector today. Here, our chief executive, Kevin Williams, reflects on the report's findings and what we must focus on in order to make foster care the best it can be.
As the fourth edition of our State of the Nation report is launched, I have been reflecting on its’ findings for 2021, and what they tell us about the way foster care is viewed within the children’s social care sector as a whole.
It has been a week for sombre reflection as we have all been reminded of the terrible impact of child abuse and neglect and the vital need for children’s social care to provide a strong and robust child protection system. Foster carers are often at the frontline of supporting children who have experienced abuse and neglect, ensuring those children can heal and move on from their trauma.
I have been thinking about our fostering findings within this context, about the day-to-day work foster carers do, 24 hours a day, to provide love, care and support for children and about how that quiet, ongoing support can transform children’s lives for the better.
I feel saddened and frustrated to hear that foster carers still feel under-appreciated in their essential roles caring for some of the most vulnerable children and young people in the UK. Foster carers tell us that their voices are often not heard when they try to advocate for the children they look after, and they don’t always receive enough information about a child before they start to care for them. Many of them (over a third) also end up out of pocket as the allowance they receive does not meet the full cost of the child’s care. This insufficient support, lack of status and poor pay continue to be key issues for foster carers and have a big role to play in the major challenges surrounding the recruitment and retention of sufficient and high-quality foster carers for fostering services too.
I am a social worker by background, and as someone who has devoted my life to improving life for children and young people in foster care, I know how important foster carers are in providing stable and nurturing homes for the children they look after. Foster carers choose to foster because they want to make a difference to the lives of children, but they tell us they are finding it increasingly difficult to do this as they feel they don’t have the support and resources they need, or the status that their role requires and deserves. Fostering services shared some really practical suggestions about how to improve recruitment and retention in order to meet local needs but it is imperative that such solutions need to be properly funded, with leadership and resources coming from national governments so that local authorities can better meet the needs of children and support foster carers.
At The Fostering Network, we have been raising awareness for some years now of the need to tackle these issues in order to recruit and retain foster carers who can meet the needs of the children they care for. Judging by the responses to our survey, and reports recently released by Ofsted, the County Councils Network and Competitions and Markets Authority, the situation is now becoming critical, and urgent action must be taken at local, regional and national levels in order to bridge the gap between the needs of children in care and the number of foster carers with the skills to meet them.
With my colleagues at The Fostering Network, and other colleagues in the sector, we will use this report as an opportunity to demand action from the UK governments to give foster care the attention and funding it requires. For too long foster care has been a neglected sector and the time to change this is now. The vital role of the foster carer needs to be recognised, respected and valued so all children are given the best experience of foster care.
This report is the first in a series using the data gathered through our State of the Nation surveys this year, and in 2022 we will release additional reports on some key areas of focus as well as encouraging foster carers to join us at discussion events to share their views further. In January, I look forward to sharing more in-depth analysis on the status of foster carers and having the opportunity to hear from more foster carers on this topic and what we can do to push for change.
In the meantime, please read and share the report, and let us know what you think.