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Foster carers have to meet minimum standards but there is no national registration scheme, writes John Coughlan

The drive in recent years to see foster carers as professionals has placed increasing demands on them. It has made the fostering task more challenging and by so doing made recruiting foster carers more difficult.

Foster carers work as part of a professional team that can include social workers, doctors, psychologists, therapists and teachers. All the members of this team are highly skilled and professionally trained, and all have earned a third-party accreditation which recognises their professional achievements. All that is, except foster carers.

Are we now failing to meet the needs of fostered children by not acknowledging foster carers as professionals? We refer to them as professionals and encourage them to undertake training up to NVQ level three, but this experience underpinned by academic qualifications and training does not confer genuine professional status.

Everyone understands that being able to call yourself a nurse in the UK denotes specified levels of professional achievement coupled with a required level of experience ratified by a third party.
All social workers must be registered with the General Social Care Council, undertake a post-qualifying award and present a portfolio every two years to evidence continuous professional development in order to call themselves a social worker. The same is not true of foster carers.

All fostering agencies must work to the same standards and are inspected within the same regulatory framework by the same organisation. All foster carers are assessed to the same
minimum standards, yet a foster carer moving from one agency to another must be reassessed; a repetitive process that can frustrate carers.

We expect more and more from our foster carers, and yet there is no formal registration or means by which the designation “foster carer” means the same in Nottingham as it does in Cornwall. We are failing our foster carers and run the risk of failing our children. Now is the time to seriously plan formal registration.

John Coughlan is director of children’s services at Hampshire Council and vice president of the Association of Directors of Social Services

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