‘Long-term fostering has been overlooked and undervalued for too long’

Jackie Sanders of The Fostering Network outlines changes that could benefit foster carers and children in long-term foster placements

Photo: Image Source/Rex Features

Long-term fostering has traditionally been seen as the “poor relation” of adoption, when it comes to providing homes for children in care who cannot return home or to wider family.

And yet long-term fostering can be the ideal solution for many children who cannot return to their family. It can offer stability and security, together with a sense of family and belonging. It also allows an ongoing relationship and contact with the birth family, rather than the sense of loss or change of identity that adoption can bring.

But a lack of formal and distinct status means long-term fostering is not always fulfilling this potential, and policy and practice solutions are not developed to make it work better.

Now, a survey of foster carers by the Fostering Network has found foster carers are not routinely being given additional training and appropriate support to help with long-term placements. It also found the level of bureaucracy and process remains similar to short-term fostering, and that carers are not routinely being given the authority to make day-to-day decisions for the child.

As a result, the Fostering Network has outlined changes the charity believes are needed to make long-term fostering work more successfully for both foster carer and child in a new report, Long-term Foster Care in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The report calls for a national framework for long-term foster care in each country, and for long-term placements made as part of a permanency planning process to have a distinct status and be formally confirmed by the local authority.

Of course, this would only make a real difference to children and their long-term foster families if all councils implement a rigorous process for permanency planning. This is essential to avoid the far too common occurrence of ‘drift’, where a child placed on a short-term basis is left with a carer for many years without a decision being taken to view and support the placement as long-term.

Other policy and practice recommendations include ensuring a child’s foster carer has an entitlement to apply to provide long-term care for the child where it’s decided that a long-term placement is in their best interests, irrespective of which type of agency the foster carer is registered with.

Moreover, reviews should be scheduled to meet the needs of the child and the foster family, not be held at pre-determined intervals as if this were a short-term placement. Foster carers should also be generally freed from having to keep daily records on children living with them for the long term.

Training on supporting and sustaining long-term placements should be provided for foster carers jointly with children’s social workers and supervising social workers. And most importantly, foster carers looking after children on a long-term basis should be given more authority to make decisions about the child.

Last year’s Care Inquiry found a need for long-term relationships to be respected and nurtured, and helped to shine a spotlight on the potential role of long-term foster care. It is, thankfully, now attracting more respect and attention from policy makers, with the Department for Education (DfE) due to publish policy proposals to strengthen long-term fostering in England later this spring.

Long-term fostering has been overlooked and undervalued for too long. The DfE’s policy review gives a real opportunity for change, to ensure long-term fostering can fulfil its rightful place as the permanence option of choice for most of those children in care who cannot return to their family or live with wider family and friends. We want to see similar initiatives in Wales and Northern Ireland.

Jackie Sanders is head of media and campaigns at The Fostering Network

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3 Responses to ‘Long-term fostering has been overlooked and undervalued for too long’

  1. Bev May 2, 2014 at 11:27 am #

    As a child who was fostered long-term, I can say from experience that both my foster parents and I were frustrated by the bureaucracy. As a result, I was never able to feel like I was one of the family. I always felt different. For example, even though I lived with my family from the age of 8 to 18, I wasn’t allowed to take their surname, so I was always asked why I had a different name to my family. Every time I wanted to do anything, e.g. school trips, sleepovers, there was so much red tape. I had medicals every year and SW meetings every 6 months. My foster parents, who were amazing, also never received any training, which they needed. Long-term foster carers should definitely receive the support, status and awareness they deserve.

  2. Debbie May 2, 2014 at 11:51 am #

    About time too! As long term foster carers we are fed up of always being referred to as the second best option for children. This was said again yesterday evening on ITV’s Wanted: A Family of My Own – and by a foster carer which was very disappointing. Not all children in care are in a position to be adopted so surely a long term care plan is better for the child than being shunted about from one place to another and at least allows for the possibility of some stability and normality for the child. We have been linked to our young person and she is allowed to use our surname (but not on legal documents such as her passport). Over time the linking process will hopefully mean that the social worker visits will reduce. It doesn’t stop the PEPs, medicals and CLA Reviews for the child or the mountain of paperwork which I have though. At the rate we are going I will need a shed to store it all in! I think some better recognition of long term carers and the commitment we give is long overdue, it is a very different kettle of fish to short term fostering and that needs to be acknowledged. Well done to The Fostering Network for highlighting this issue.

  3. Tina May 8, 2014 at 3:29 pm #

    I’m a long term foster carer. It would be nice to cut down on supervisory visits and s/w visits also lots of paper work, pdp,pep every year. Medicals etc etc. We don’t do all this with our own children. Training should be when required for specific things, not made to go on them and do so many each year as they can be quite repetitive. Training to suit specific child and needs would be good. I would even accept ‘spot checks’ if any concerns from Social Workers.