Children in care forced to switch between “a dizzying number” of foster parents are being failed by the Government, MPs warn.
An influential Commons committee is demanding a full review of the care system after hearing from more than 100 foster carers and children cared for by the state.
A national college for foster carers to bolster capacity, better advocacy services and placing children with their siblings should be key priorities, the Education Select Committee says.
The Fostering Network, however, says only one in 10 foster carers receives the equivalent of the National Living Wage for a 40-hour week and more pay is vital to boost carer numbers.
During the committee’s inquiry into the care system - which was sparked because of poor educational and mental health outcomes for looked after children - one young person said they had been through eight placements in four years.
Another had “moved six times in less than no time” and a third had lived in thirteen different foster placements and two children’s homes in five years. Others told of a struggle to stay in meaningful contact with siblings and family members.
Robert Halfon, the Tory MP who chairs the committee, said: “The foster care system is under significant pressure and yet this is an area of arguably greatest need. Foster children are some of the most vulnerable young people in our society but many are currently being failed by a care system which doesn’t meet their needs.
“Foster children shouldn’t face the prospect of a dizzying number of placements nor should they be excluded from decisions about their future. Efforts need to be redoubled to place children with their siblings.
“The best gift the Government could give foster children this Christmas is to commit to improving the support they receive to enable them to climb the ladder of opportunity and thrive in their lives ahead. The Government also needs to do more to recognise the valuable service which foster carers provide. Establishing a national college would be a welcome step in this direction.”
The Government should do more to stop the breakdown of the relationship between foster parents and children whilst also boosting the number of available foster carers overall with a national college.
One foster parent told the committee carers often felt ‘undermined, bypassed and treated as glorified babysitters’ by the care system.
A national recruitment and awareness campaign to bolster foster carer numbers is needed, say MPs.
Kevin Williams, chief executive of The Fostering Network, said offering better pay for foster carers is vital.
He welcomed the report and said: “We are pleased that the committee has included many of The Fostering Network’s recommendations, including the need for all foster carers to be given an allowance that fully covers costs, a push for more funding to make staying put work, access to whistleblowing legislation and a recognition of foster carers as child care experts who must be treated as equal members of the team.”
He added: “What is crucial is that all fostering services understand exactly who they are looking for, and target recruitment accordingly, and that they ensure that the package of financial and practical support is sufficient to attract and retain these foster carers.
“We would argue, therefore, that in order to recruit and retain enough foster families for all the children who need them, ensuring they are properly paid is key, and we are disappointed that the report makes no mention of this. [It] means that fostering is just not a viable option financially for many people who could, with the right financial support, become foster carers and provide loving, stable homes for children.”
Halfon said that the Government had extended the 15 hours a week free childcare policy to foster carers.
“Foster carers have a really important role in society and are often providing fantastic care in sometimes difficult circumstances,” he said. “But our inquiry showed it is clear that too many are not adequately supported, neither financially nor professionally, in the vital work that they do.
“Following pressure from Committee members, we welcome the Government’s commitment to finally extending the extra 15 hours a week childcare entitlement to children in foster care. This opportunity to access good quality education will make a huge difference to foster children.
“Ministers must go further however and show that they truly value foster carers by establishing a national college, which would work towards improving working conditions for carers, provide a resource for training and support, and give them a national voice and representation. It is only right that these hugely committed carers are given the support they need to help improve the lives of the young people in their care.”
Responding to the report’s recommendations, Minister for Children and Families, Robert Goodwill, said: “We welcome the Education Select Committee’s report, which highlights the invaluable role that foster carers play in the lives of vulnerable children. A happy and stable home for children in foster care is vital, and we are committed to supporting these looked after children and their foster carers.
“This includes investing £200m in our Innovation Programme to test new and effective ways to support vulnerable children. Just this week we also announced that we will extend our 30 hour childcare offer to foster children to provide extra help for foster carers.
“We will consider the report’s findings and recommendations alongside the independent review, the National Fostering Stocktake, which will help us to identify improvements to the support and outcomes for looked after children.”