FosterWiki’s 2023 was game-changing, but we all need more introspection and less self-congratulation
Sarah Anderson – FosterWiki Founder
I have pondered a great deal on this article, how to sum up 2023 at FosterWiki, how to talk about the enormity of what we have done this year and how to frame it.
Then I remembered the voices of our FosterWiki care experienced advisory group and the precious time we have spent with this inspirational group of young people this year, and how their terrible experiences through care and as care leavers, and those of their peers, impacted on us.
I remembered all the people rallying around preparing Christmas lunches for care leavers, many of whom would otherwise spend Christmas alone. I remembered all those donating sleeping bags to homeless charities, a sector in which care leavers represent over 30%.
I remember the young people spending Christmas in jail, with a third of the prison population being care experienced, and those who are no longer with us, taking their own lives or falling into addiction unable to bear the grief, loneliness and despair.
For those who like statistics and data, I remembered those too, plus the reports, research, and reviews, all of which make for very hard reading, not one of which screams ‘outstanding’ in any way shape or form.
Whilst I don’t argue that positivity is important surely it should be proportionate, for instance, should we be so overtly celebrating Ofsted ratings in such a public way, proclaiming them to be outstanding when the children’s outcomes are so dire? Don’t you think that maybe we should all stop, think and take a moment of introspection to ask ourselves how our young people and the care experienced might feel when reading self-congratulatory posts, comments and articles knowing none of it matches their experience?
They must be left wondering who these outstanding accolades are actually for, as it certainly hasn’t worked out all that outstandingly for them. They are not the only ones, there are also the foster carers and social workers on the front line who know the truth of it whilst others seem so completely out of touch with reality, unable to hear anything that doesn’t fit with their narrative.
Like it or not, we can only ever be as good as our outcomes and sadly those outcomes have not improved, they simply demonstrate just how far we have to go as a sector before we can congratulate ourselves, declare anything a success, or break open the champagne.
However, I am proud and privileged to be part of the dedicated FosterWiki team, now with upward of 700k page views and 18k unique users each month, regularly on the first page of Google, our invaluable unique service continues to be (at a considerable cost to ourselves) completely free, instantly accessed by anyone, anywhere, anytime on phones, laptops and tablets.
We have been on a steep learning curve with our forays into advertising and it has given us much food for thought and much to reflect on.
Our 2022 foster carer’s cost-of-living survey, the biggest independent one of its kind, has continued to be influential throughout 2023, nationally quoted in the press, media, reports and research, it has, with others, been influential in the call for raises in allowances, tax relief and one-off cost-of-living payments for foster carers, but we remain aware we have a long way to go.
I am grateful for our ongoing work with the Department for Education on a wide range of issues, and we look forward to more engagement next year and hope to further illustrate the value of input from organisations led by foster carer leaders and experts who are experience and expertise is grounded in direct practice.
We have supported hundreds of foster carers on our FosterWiki email helpline with rewarding feedback, mostly saying there is no equal when it comes to supporting them because our experts can empathise and connect on a deeper level, they say they feel heard and understood, and supported and valued.
In November we launched Noah’s Campaign to raise awareness and find a solution for children’s loss of attachments through care. A packed room in Parliament, kindly sponsored by Caroline Nokes MP, heard from the care experienced and experts across the sector, it was a hard listen but an incredible day.
We are now working on our government petition calling for a debate and an oversight mechanism. The videos commissioned for the event have been shared widely and many fostering services and training organisations across the UK are now embedding the video into their training for both foster carers and social workers.
Just 6 weeks ago we launched the National Foster Carers Qualifications and after 2yrs of hard work our dream came to fruition, a standardised education pathway to deliver a new generation of qualified skilled foster carers providing high standards of care in nurturing, knowledgeable, trauma-informed homes. Early pathfinders gave universally excellent feedback and have told us of the transformational impact they feel it will have in fostering practice and outcomes for children.
Along with the NFCQs came our Integrated Assessment Process (IAP), a new system of approving foster carers, one underpinned by fostering regulations with the NFCQ Foundation qualification at its heart.
A much-needed modern strength-based concept, more suited to fostering’s 21st-century landscape, one producing confident educated foster carers from day one, in 10 weeks, not 10 months. In a few short weeks fostering services and agencies are already booking presentations and meetings for both the NFCQs and the Integrated Assessment Process (AIP).
We will celebrate our year very quietly, knowing the real celebrations will come when all our children have stable loving homes, don’t get bounced around the system or have exhausted undervalued foster carers and social workers, and when their mental health is cared for in trauma-informed homes when they have good educational outcomes, and when those leaving care are supported and surrounded by all the people who have been there for them and loved them throughout their journey, and live fulfilling meaningful lives.