Maintaining contact with those we love and protect us, and who play an important part in our lives, seems to be an obvious thing to do - however children up and down the country are moving homes, for a range of reasons, and being denied access to those they've come to care for.
The 2013 Care Inquiry, led by The Fostering Network alongside other sector charities and research bodies, found that relationships were the golden thread that ran through care and gave children and young people the best chance of a positive future. All the research undertaken in the past has shown us that if we support children in maintaining relationships, then their lives will be richer for it, and we must start to take the seriously. That is why The Fostering Network has launched Keep Connected: Maintaining Relationships When Moving On, a campaign and report inspired by a foster carer who contacted The Fostering Network about a recent court case.
The foster carer was prevented by the local authority from having any contact with a former fostered child. The judge ruled in the child's/foster carer favour observing: "In a world of shifting family relationships in which children increasingly grow up with a wide range of connections that are seen as normal we need to take stock of why our approach to children in care is different. Why do we persist in breaking children's old relationships when we introduce them to future carers, despite knowing that so many children who do not happen to be in care manage to negotiate complex family relationships as they grow up."
We spoke to over 1,250 children, young people, and foster carers, during the course of creating the Keep Connected report. We asked them their opinion and thoughts, and we have listened. I want you to listen to them too:
"It's important because they [foster carers] are often the closest thing you will have to parents under circumstances where your biological family cannot support you."
"They were my family and shared my life. They loved and cared for me and I trusted them."
"Foster parents are, or can be, like parents: they are the ones who care for you on a day-to-day basis. The idea that you can live in a home for years and then be expected to move to a new home and never look back is abhorrent."
This is why we're calling on each of the UK governments to issue guidance and regulations that ensure local authorities and health and social services trusts make certain that foster carers who have developed a good relationship with children are enabled to support them as they move home, move to a permanent placement, or move into and through the leaving care process. This isn't a change in the law, or an increase in spending, that could see the lives of so many children and young people improved - it is listening. The child is at the heart of all that The Fostering Network does, and we've been told in no uncertain terms by children and young people in foster care, and care leavers, that being able to stay in touch with their former foster carer is very important to them.
The bond between a foster carer and their foster child can sometimes be stronger than that of the child and their birth parent, and we know the importance of valuing and supporting attachments particularly for these children in care who will most likely have previously experienced loss. All the research shows that children who have secure attachments have better outcomes in social and emotional development, educational achievement, and mental health than those who do not have secure attachments. The practice of cutting off the relationship between the child and their foster carer is damaging and social work practice needs to reflect that a matter of urgency.
If the governments of the UK are to create future generations of successful and happy care experienced young people, they have to support them in maintaining the relationships that bring them security, happiness, and the freedom to express themselves and fulfil their potential.