The Fostering Network today launched a campaign – backed by 12 other children’s charities – for more support and recognition for the UK’s foster carers to “revive the struggling care system”.
In an open letter to children’s secretary Ed Balls, the charities said that it was only by improving the status of foster carers, who care for three-quarters of looked-after children, that the pressures on the system could be met.
Together for Change is being launched against a backdrop of rising numbers of looked-after children in Scotland and a massive hike in care applications from English councils in the wake of the baby Peter case.
Current shortage of foster carers
However, the Fostering Network estimates there is already a shortage of 10,000 foster families across the UK, including 8,200 in England, compared to an overall care population of about 72,500.
It is calling for improved status, training, support and pay for carers, in a campaign backed by, among others, Action for Children, The Children’s Society, the British Association for Adoption and Fostering.
In their letter to Balls, the charities said: “Children in care still move too frequently, leave too early and too often fail to get the help they need to achieve their potential. This cannot be allowed to continue. It’s time to recognise and value the difference good foster care makes to children’s lives.”
Specific campaign aims include for foster carers to be:-
- Registered with their national care council and recognised as part of the children’s workforce.
- Given regular supervision from a named supervisor.
- Required and enabled to access training throughout their careers, with career foster carers qualified to level three (equivalent to A-levels) within two years of approval.
- Paid more, with career foster carers paid, over the longer-term, at levels comparable with children’s residential workers and, in the short-term, at the minimum wage.
- Paid when suspended due to an allegation, with fostering services having a transparent framework for dealing with allegations.
- Given the authority to make decisions about child care without unnecessary delays and restrictions.
Relief from worries
The proposals would relieve foster carers of the financial and emotional worries which may prevent them from fostering or cause children in their care to suffer, said Raina Sheridan, deputy chief executive of The Fostering Network.
Sheridan said early results from a recent pay survey commissioned by the Fostering Network found that foster carers were either unpaid or receiving less than the minimum wage
New standards on information
One of the other campaign aims – for carers to be given all available information on children to help them reach their potential and keep them safe – should be implemented, at least in part, through proposed national minimum standards issued last week.
The proposals, which were highlighted by children’s minister Baroness Morgan in a letter to councils, would ensure carers received full, written information on children placed with them prior to placement, or as soon as possible thereafter in emergencies.
This follows a survey by the network, which found over half of carers had had children placed with them in the past three years without receiving sufficient information on them.
Following the launch of the campaign today, The Fostering Network will begin its annual conference, in York, tomorrow, and will also be holding a series of events asking for people to sign-up to the campaign.
Public debate on proposed reforms
In January 2010, the network will hold a public debate on whether we can afford not to support foster carers in the proposed new ways.
Sheridan said Together for Change was likely to run for several years:
“This is a long-term campaign – many of our aims require changes to the existing culture of foster care. Foster placements can make an enormous difference to children in care, so as a society we’ve got to get it right.”
DCSF urges directors to share information with foster carers