Words mean something. Actions matter. Words, matched by actions, are why thousands of children feel that there is a stigma attached to living in foster care. Words, matched by actions, are why tonight some children who are living in long-term stable fostering placements will ask to be adopted by their foster carers - because they've been told by the highest powers in the land that their current circumstance, no matter how loving or secure, isn't the best place for them to be.
The Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan MP, said this week: "Every single day a child spends waiting in care is a further delay to a life full of love and stability - and this simply isn't good enough. We have a responsibility to transform the lives of our most vulnerable children, making sure they get the opportunities they deserve."
Can you imagine being ten years old, living with a family who you know love you and will be your family for life, and seeing a newspaper report that statement over breakfast tomorrow? How do you think that ten year old will feel?
When Michael Gove became Secretary of State for Education the whole of the children's sector expected a focus on adoption from a man who was himself adopted, but while Gove has been away from the Department for Education for 18 months, this hierarchy of care remains.
Under Gove the discussion around care drifted from supporting families and helping them recover from their misfortunes, to creating new families. While some children without doubt can never return home, we owe it to the rest to, where possible, try to keep families together.
Any government consistently promoting the message that any particular care option is the gold standard of permanence, instead of really examining the needs of each individual child, shows a lack of understanding of the situation that social workers, and children's services, are facing every single day.
The Fostering Network has long supported calls for increased adoption support so that fewer adoptions break down, because we understand the very real benefits that stability can bring during the journey through childhood. For the vast majority of children in care though, other permanency options will better meet their needs and so we want the spotlight to change, we want the rhetoric to change, and we want the Government in Westminster to really understand the children that they are the ultimate corporate parent of.
We are tired of listening to permanency options other than adoption being denigrated by politicians who, because they have the platform to speak and work as the ultimate corporate parent for all children in care, ought to know better.
The Government recently invested £4.5 million in setting up regional adoption agencies during 2015/16, while in 2013 fostering services received £750,000 over two years to recruit foster carers. Yet while we need to recruit thousands of more foster carers during 2016 alone, we already have enough adopters to adopt the children for whom adoption is the best option.
To use Morgan's own words, this simply isn't good enough.
As the UK's leading fostering charity, we listen to foster carers, and this is what a few of them had to say about Morgan's comments:
"Brilliant to have more support and funding for adoption. Shame about the fostering slur. Every foster carer I know fills the lives of children waiting for adoption with love and stability. Insulting to all foster carers."
"Maybe the Government doesn't realise that children ready for adoption and matched with adoptees are only in this position due to the hard work, love, and encouragement from foster carers and their families."
"Foster care is better than good enough, it is for some the best solution. In the short term carers are instrumental in transforming children's lives. For some in permanence foster care IS the best and sometimes only solution to complex problems."
"Even short term carers go to extraordinary lengths to ensure the children in their care lives are full of love. I know I do."
Good foster care transforms lives and enables young people to flourish. The vast majority of young people in care are living with foster families who love them, and provide the stability and support that will see them grow into confident adults. Too often politicians use the robust analysis of the outcomes of young people in foster care as a rod to hit future young people in care with. Time and time again it is shown that foster carers have a hugely positive effect on the children who live in their care.
As well as providing a loving family environment, foster carers are also the primary advocates and first educators for the children they are caring for. Foster care is much, much more than simply providing a roof over a young person's head. Foster carers make a difference which is recognised by schools, by local government, by Ofsted, and by many others in wider society, but is not properly recognised by this Government. In November 2015 University of Oxford research revealed that educational outcomes improve for fostered children compared to those living on the edge of care. Various research by Sinclair, Schofield and others shows the positive impact of the care system on many vulnerable young people.
The Government, in many ways, has invested in foster care. There is a children's minister who truly understands the sector and has worked to gain, and has indeed secured, the trust and support of foster carers and those who work within the sector. They have strengthened the status of long-term fostering, and they have changed the lives of children for years to come by introducing Staying Put. This is why this rhetoric is so frustrating - because we know that in many ways, the Department for Education has listened to, and acted, on the concerns of the children's sector.
However, the Government will spend £200m over this parliament to support adoption, and we would like to see them make a similar commitment to fostering, given that nearly 80 per cent of children in care are living with foster families. And the majority of those 80 per cent will not only stay living with them, but thrive and become adult members of our society under their care.
The secretary of state said that "We have a responsibility to transform the lives of our most vulnerable children, making sure they get the opportunities they deserve".
We, and the thousands of foster carers across the country, couldn't agree more.
Foster care works. Every day foster carers are committed to helping every child they care for to aim high and fulfil their potential; now we, they, and the young people they're caring for need to know that the Government respects, values and supports what they do.Suggest a correction