THE BLOG
29/06/2015 11:50 BST | Updated 26/06/2016 06:59 BST

What It Means to 'Protect Our Foster Kids'

"A foster carer treats you like family, like their own children."

You can't help but see teenager Amy's lust for life, and a real and genuine enthusiasm for living in what she felt was a stable family home. The first seven minutes of the show Protecting Our Foster Kids revealed the very best of fostering.

Yet so quickly, in terms of the television show at least, it all fell apart. Words like "...my child wouldn't do that..." and "...contract of expectations..." began to be bandied about, and the foster carers - who had done their very best and were devastated by the ending of the placement - readily admitted that they weren't adequately trained or prepared to be able to give a teenager a long-term home.

When The Fostering Network's media team is approached by media outlets and they want to know what makes a good foster carer, they often guess at 'being a parent already' as something which would be of most benefit. Our experience, and as this programme shows, is that this isn't always the case. While the foster carers had clearly brought up their children to be happy and rounded, their expectation was that a teenager in foster care would fit into the same mould. Of course we only saw a snapshot through this brief and edited programme, but it appeared that they hadn't been prepared for the potential challenges that lay ahead.

This is why there is often a push to find foster carers who have a background in education, youth work, nursing, the emergency services, and even the armed forces, as often they have a wider breadth of experience when it comes to working with and supporting teenagers who may have challenging behaviour brought on by a challenging upbringing.

But you can't blame Amy for feeling like her first opportunity to spread her wings was taken away when her sister Natalie was moved in due to a lack of suitable foster families in the area, despite the general agreement that these sisters' needs were better met when they lived apart. This showed the huge pressures fostering services are under to find the right homes for teenagers, the challenges that they face when they can't find those homes, and the potential negative effect on a young person when the right home for them can't be found.

The Fostering Network runs the largest foster carer recruitment campaign in the UK, Foster Care Fortnight™, and we talk again and again about the need for foster carers to have right skills to foster. We know that people won't necessarily come into fostering with the skills to care for teenagers who have experienced unimaginable trauma in their short lives, so we have to ensure that foster carers have the preparation and ongoing support they need to make placements successful for the children living in them.

"I went in with my heart, not my head."

We're often approached by television documentary makers to discuss the possibility of making shows like this, and we support them all with research and facts we can, and put them in touch with people who can arrange filming opportunities - yet so rarely do these shows get made. There are several reasons for this, including:

• most children in foster care can't be filmed, photographed or have their location identified;

• it takes a huge investment of time - you're looking at a two to three-year investment of time to make a four show series about children in foster care. This puts many production companies off telling the stories because other stories are much easier to tell;

• there is a risk averse culture when it comes to filming within local authorities. Social workers are under constant attack in the press, so why would they want to invite the media in to follow them with a camera for months at a time scrutinising their every move?

I applaud Dorset Council for deciding to participate in this series. It's brave, it's a game changer. It's bringing fostering into the public imagination and exposing people to a side of the care system they so rarely see - the children in it.

We're crying out for story tellers to invest the time and energy in working with us, and fostering services, to try and share the stories of children to a public who often don't realise what happens in their own communities. Only then can we tackle the stigma that some still attach to children who can't live with their birth parents.

No child goes into care through a fault of their own. Neglect, poverty, abuse and abandonment all contribute towards children entering the care system and to their behaviour before and after that move into care.

We shout about the need for the UK Government to treat foster care as equal to adoption, and series like Protecting Our Foster Kids reveal the huge disparity in priority and support. Not only for foster carers, but for social workers and fostering services.

In 2011 the Government appointed former director general of the Prison Service of England and Wales, chief executive of the National Offender Management Service, and former chief executive of Barnardos, Sir Martin Narey as 'adoption tsar' in England. No such person has been appointed to fight the corner for the vast majority of children in care who live in foster care.

You can't help but feel that the appointment of someone with 35 years working with vulnerable young people and pushing reform and change, as well as campaigning with a huge children's charity at a national level, may indicate which path to permanence is considered the higher priority.

We need, children need, governments across the UK to take fostering seriously and to support it in the same way that adoption is supported in England. You only have to watch the first episode of Protecting Our Foster Kids to see exactly why fostering services need the support. The need for more foster carers is having a crippling effect on the development of some of our children.

In 2013 £16 million was invested in recruitment for adoptive parents in England, while in May 2013 the Government announced just £750,000 investment in fostering recruitment support - yet in England nearly four-fifths (78 per cent) of the 65,630 children in care who are looked after away from home live in foster care.

If foster carers with the skills and experience needed to care for Amy, and her sister Natalie, had been available then would the placements have broken down? Would the tears have flooded out? Would two teenage girls feel that they'd been let down...again?

When Natalie was driven to a new placement she was told that it was "another chapter in her book." Even Michael Aspel would baulk at the thickness of the red books that we're making the children who are supposed to be our responsibility write.

If you're ever considering fostering then watch, on repeat, the footage of a tearful 15-year old peeling photographs, her only real possessions, off a wall as she moves house and family once again. If you think you've got the skills, commitment and dedication to provide a loving home to someone who needs it and to ensure that the chances of that teenager peeling photographs off a wall again are very slim, then contact your local fostering service today.

If you think you've got the skills and qualities needed to foster, you can find your local fostering service on couldyoufoster.org.uk