Foster care is a ticking time bomb here are 5 solutions
Author: Sarah Anderson, Founder FosterWiki
Published November 16th 2022
Whilst most will be aware there’s a national shortage of foster carers, fewer will be familiar with the national retention crisis, the synergy of these two is a ticking time bomb. The inescapable truth is simple; with no foster carers, there will be no foster care.
Ofsted’s new report on fostering in England has just been released and compared to statistics from last year, and despite Ofsted’s comment that the system was at breaking point, things have just got far worse. One in eight fostering households quit in the last year, with more households deregistered than approved from 2018-22, with an 18% decrease of newly approved households, and 21% fewer applications the future is looking bleak.
Whilst these statistics are a serious cause for concern, they fail to expose the scale of the crisis, a recent FosterWiki survey showed a staggering 54% of current foster carers feel they may be forced to quit, combined that with the number of children in need of fostering families rising and the Social Market Foundation report that we will have a deficit of 25,000 fostering families by 2026, foster care finds itself fighting for its very existence.
Not only that, but according to Government stats, a staggering 30% of newly approved foster carers are deregistered within 2yrs, leaving children being bounced around a system in a revolving door of inexperienced ill-equipped foster carers. Compounding this we have a foster carer population ageing out with government reports showing 66% of current carers are in their 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.
Our children are faring no better, according to government stats only 7% of foster children pass GCSEs compared to 40% of their non-looked-after peers, care leavers comprise 25% of the homeless, 24% of the prison population and over 40% of care leavers are not in education, employment or training.
So what’s going wrong?
In March the government announced an independent review of children’s care and a national implementation board of strategic leaders has been formed to deliver on the findings. A debate around balanced representation has ensued, however, whilst leaders in the care-experienced community, rightly in my view, feel underrepresented, unfortunately, foster carer leaders and fostering continue not to be represented at all. How can we forge change when we are not represented or present?
No one leaves fostering or doesn’t sign up because of the children, the system is invariably to blame. Traditionally the best recruiters of foster carers are carers themselves, but due to the slow and painful collective burnout, exacerbated by the pandemic, the cost-of-living crisis and a system under unbearable pressure, few are recommending as a palpable weary disquiet moves across the foster carer community.
An outdated narrative pervades, one of the altruistic hero volunteers, all you need is spare rooms and big hearts. Not only is this not foster care it undermines the skilled trauma-informed care our children need. Nor is this portrayal appealing to a new generation, the foster carers to come, to millennials who not only expect more but inhabit a new modern space and vastly different socio-economic landscape. This prevailing unhelpful stereotype also prevents huge swathes of the population even considering its merits or seeing it as a serious alternative to current professions.
What are the solutions?
- Recruitment – change the outdated, ineffective fostering narrative, it is key to recruitment. Rethink the ‘all you need is a spare room and big heart’ story, which is no longer effective, does not reflect our role, attracts no one and does our children a disservice. Overhaul the marketing strategies to widen the recruitment net.
- Retention – give foster carers more security, improved working conditions, modernise and overhaul pay structures and level up (not down) across the UK. Improve the foster carer’s standing in the team around the child to ensure retention, placement stability and permanence.
- Education – a standardised, nationally recognised education to raise standards and prevent
children who have experienced acute trauma being handed off to new carers with no meaningful education or qualifications, understanding of trauma, therapeutic care, their role or the task ahead, which results in children bouncing around the system and 30% of the scarce recruits leaving within 2yrs.
- Support – take a fresh look at what ‘support’ actually looks like, at the reality and needs of the fostering setting and those in it. Listen to carers, they will tell you meaningful support is the team around the child being enabled to fully carry out their roles, accessing and embedding the right services, working in a relational and multidisciplinary way, fully supporting them in their role and putting the child and the foster carer at the centre.
- Allegations – overhaul the current system, and develop one that puts child protection at the centre, adheres to proper timescales, is accountable, and can not be so freely used in whistleblowing and complaints.
We are currently in an echo chamber, many of us watch disheartened from the sidelines as the industry tries to solve problems with the same thinking that created them. This is not time for a lack of ambition or aspiration for foster care, nor is it time to tinker around the edges, now is the time for transformational change, to put agendas and politics to one side and listen to those who are experienced and expertise is grounded in practice.