This year could see a significant change in the way foster carers are viewed and treated and The Fostering Network expects to play a central role in that process. We have an opportunity - perhaps the first in a generation - for fostering to take centre stage and enjoy the limelight which is so often dominated by adoption.
The Fostering Network has given evidence to the Westminster Education Committee's inquiry into fostering which was shaped by the findings of our recently published State of The Nation's Foster Care 2016 report. We are also working closely with the government in Westminster on its fostering stock take and will be consulting with the Scottish Government as it carries out its root and branch review of foster care.
These stock takes, reviews and inquiries are long overdue and extremely important. As our State of the Nation report, based on the views of over 2,500 foster carers has clearly shown, the strain being put on the UK's fostering system is unsustainable and it is only the generosity and dedication of foster carers that is holding the system together.
The report revealed that almost half the respondents still didn't receive a fee. In addition too many foster carers said that they were funding the care of their looked after children out of their own pockets due to their allowances not keeping pace with the increasing cost of caring for that child. And while minimum recommended allowances are in place around the rest of the UK, the Scottish Government, 10 years after pledging to act on the matter, is still failing to implement them in Scotland.
On top of this, the report found that:
- A third of foster carers were not treated as an equal by their children's social worker.
- A third of foster carers were rarely or never given all of the information about a fostered child prior to placement.
- Around a half of foster carers did not have an agreed training plan for the next 12 months.
Despite being in a system which is at times unhelpful or even possibly a hindrance, foster carers continue to fulfil an amazing role providing stable, loving homes for children to grow up in. But such a situation is not sustainable. While the majority of foster carers would like to carry on fostering for as long as they are able, only 55 per cent would recommend it to others.
This hampers the recruitment of new foster carers, and increases long-term societal and financial costs, so it is vital the committee, the stocktake, the root and branch review - every one of the UK's governments - considers these issues and addresses them urgently.
Since its inception The Fostering Network and its members have driven the majority of improvements in the sector through our campaigning, advice and practice innovation work. But there is still some way to go and we are very concerned that the progress made is at risk.
We fear that ongoing austerity policy will cause the already great burden placed upon the fostering system to become unbearable, which in turn will diminish the stability and positive outcomes of tens of thousands of looked after children each year - this cannot be allowed to happen.
Good foster care transforms lives and is the best option for the vast majority of children in care. Our recent report should prompt governments across the UK to no longer take the dedication and enthusiasm of foster carers for granted.
Lord Laming recently wrote that,
'Foster carers deserve both respect and support and to be treated as vitally important partners in the care of these children.'
I couldn't agree more. 2017 must be the year in which the system is properly reviewed, overhauled, improved and funded so that foster carers can, and do, receive that respect, support and treatment. Our foster carers, and most importantly the young people they dedicate their lives to, deserve nothing less.