A third of foster carers feel social workers “do not treat them as equal” in decisions around care, research has found.
The Fostering Network survey of 2,530 UK foster carers also found almost a third had been referred children from outside their approval range. Half of those who took children outside their range felt “pressured” into it, while three-quarters said they received no additional support to cope.
Less than half of the carers surveyed (42%) felt their allowance met the full cost of looking after fostered children, down from 80% when the survey was last carried out in 2014. Almost a third said they were “rarely or never” given all of the information about a child before taking on a placement, while 61% had seen a council end a placement before carrying out a review.
The Fostering Network said the findings showed the system was under “unsustainable strain” that threatened to undo progress made to improve foster care in recent years.
Bottom of decision making
Kevin Williams, the charity’s chief executive, told Community Care foster carers “often feel they are at the bottom of the decision making around children”.
Williams shared an example where a child protection conference chair stopped a foster carer from attending because he was not considered a professional, only for the carer to reveal he was a former assistant director in children’s services.
“I think there are real examples of ways that foster carers are not treated as professionals,” said Williams.
“The issue about sharing information – 34% of foster carers reported they were either rarely or never given all of the information about a foster child prior to placement – that, in a way, talks to the heart of the way foster carers are not treated as professionals.”
One carer who responded to the survey said: “Many social workers, particularly the child’s team, often afford us no respect whatsoever… it’s something that needs improving.”
Another added: “It is rare that a child’s social worker will recognise that the foster carer knows the child better than they do, therefore they don’t take our opinions and advice into consideration, almost always at negative cost to the child.”
The report recommends the Westminster government and devolved administrations boost the status of foster carers by improving training and creating national registers of carers. It also calls for ministers to revisit minimum levels of fostering allowances.
Responding the report, a department for education spokesperson said: “Foster carers make an essential contribution to children’s lives and we want to ensure they receive the support they need. That is why we are currently undertaking a national stocktake of fostering to better understand current provision – including looking at issues affecting foster carers, such as fees, allowances and support. Alongside this we have supported the testing of new and innovative models of foster care as part of the £200 million Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme, including better ways to support children in foster care and their carers.”