My experiences of adoption and fostering were dreadful so I feel qualified to talk about what is a suitable vetting process for prospective “parents”. Firstly, intelligence and then motivation: any assessment needs to confirm that people understand their responsibilities and are entering into the process for the right reasons. And what are the right reasons? A desire to give a child a loving and stable home with treatment equal to that of other siblings in the family.
There is a danger that some people coming forward for fostering treat the new addition to the family as a cash incentive, not a person in their own right. I certainly felt this. I was treated as an automate and was never fully integrated into my foster family. Perhaps monitoring of performance and motives is sharper today but I doubt whether all adoptive and foster parents are assessed and monitored sufficiently vigorously to ensure no child is failed by the system.
How can this situation be improved? As with any job, a specification should be written against which to assess applicants. Psychometric testing is now common in human resources so why not use it in this context? It would not be a substitute for professional assessment but it would reveal any inconsistencies and complement the subjective elements of the eligibility process. We also need to recruit from a wide pool of suitable applicants, again matching other recruitment processes. So why not use campaign techniques for raising awareness of the rewarding aspects of the job, as with the recent teachers’ recruitment campaign?
My job specification would include skills in – and knowledge of – parenting, child development, caring and moral development. Applicants should be unflappable, conscientious, consistent and reliable. Looked-after children need love and skilled handling. As a civilised society we should ensure they receive it. Today I live successfully as an independent woman and member of society. But this is in no way the result of my fostering. The scars are still with me.
Anna C Young is a mental health activist and wheelchair user