Risk-averse councils stifling foster placements, warns Fostering Network

Foster carers do not know whether it is safe to hug a child or encourage them to climb trees due to blanket bans on them taking decisions for children, warns charity's chief executive.

The care system has become too risk averse and is stopping foster carers from using their professional judgement in bringing up children, the Fostering Network’s annual conference heard today.

Network chief executive Robert Tapsfield told delegates that foster carers now worried about whether it was safe to hug a child, encourage tree-climbing or allow them to use social media like their friends.

“Enusring fostered children are safe is vitally important but the pendulum has swung too far,” he warned. “Now the system is too risk averse.”

The Fostering Network is calling for a shift away from restrictive policies and blanket bans imposed by councils to a more “flexible and sensible approach to risk”. Tapsfield said fostered children needed carers who were confident to take the day-to-day decisions that other parents made all the time.

“There has and always will be risks because there are no completely safe options in life,” he said. “But not allowing foster carers to take basic decisions denies fostered children a full experience of childhood and does not help them to learn how to take control of their lives as they become adults.”

Nushra Mansuri, professional officer with the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), said she had some sympathy with the frustrations but warned against “throwing caution to the wind”.

“While children in care, like their peers, are likely to be active users of social media there is a need for their carers to be a bit vigilant about this practice as there may be issues about family members who pose a risk to them, tracking them down through social media.”

However, she agreed that each child’s case should be looked at individually and blanket bans should be removed in favour of delegating day-to-day decisions to foster carers wherever possible.

“I also think that some of the current situation is a reflection of the erosion of the autonomy of social workers over the years who have to ask their managers for approval for some of the most minute decisions,” she added.

Improve your practice

Check out Community Care Inform’s guides to achieving stability for children who are looked after or adopted, by June Thoburn, emeritus professor of social work, University of East Anglia, and foster care placements, by the Fostering Network.

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