Expectations of foster carers have changed dramatically over the past 30 years. In the past, foster carers were regarded as volunteers who opened up their homes and families to a vulnerable child and were generally given an allowance to cover the costs of caring for an extra child.
While foster carers still provide a home for a child or young person to be supported and loved, they now need to be able to handle a range of tasks. These include ensuring children have contact with their families, attending court hearings and meetings and keeping detailed records. Foster carers are also expected to be skilled in child development and need to have an understanding of the impact of abuse.
So, today, foster carers provide much more than an experience of family life. They are regarded as being at the centre of a team of professionals, including social workers and teachers, whose task it is to make a difference to the lives of children in care.
But there is often a significant gap between the expectations placed on foster carers and the recognition they get from their colleagues. While they are expected to go about their role in a professional way, the reality is that they are often still regarded as volunteers. They play a vital role in the lives of many children but are often not paid to do so. Increasing responsibilities are placed on them but their status has not changed.
At our annual conference this week, the Fostering Network will be calling for foster carers to be regarded as equal partners in the child care workforce as their role changes and more demands are made of them. Moving towards a professional foster care service means foster carers getting the recognition they deserve. It involves, among other changes, the registration of foster carers, access to extra support and training, legal representation, if and when required, and pay that is comparable with others in the child care workforce.
Today there are more children than ever living with foster carers and far fewer children being placed in children’s homes. Foster carers are motivated by a desire to help a child or young person make the most of their life. Being properly paid and regarded as an equal by social care and teaching colleagues will encourage more people to become foster carers and empower those who are to transform the lives of the children they care for.
Robert Tapsfield is chief executive of the Fostering Network whose annual conference, “For Love and Money, towards a professional fostering service”, will be held on 28 and 29 September in London. See www.fostering.net