More than three-quarters of foster carers have been satisfied with the support provided by social workers during the coronavirus crisis, a survey has found.
Asked to grade on a five-point scale their dealings with practitioners since the onset of the pandemic, 77% of respondents scored it three or above, with 52% giving a rating of four or five.
The research was carried out by the Independent Foster Carers’ Alliance (IFCA), which represents and campaigns on behalf of foster carers. More than 600 foster carers responded to the survey, around 90% of them from England, with the rest made up of people living in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Eighty per cent of people who answered the survey said they had not accessed extra financial support during lockdown from their local authority or independent fostering agency. Those that did typically received one-off payments in the range of £50-£200 for assistance towards home schooling or activities, or in lieu of cancelled respite.
Official guidance for children’s social care providers does not make specific provision for extra funding to foster families in adverse financial circumstances under coronavirus, merely stating that the government has provided an extra £3.2bn to local authorities (a sum since increased by £500m).
A report published this week by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) cited government figures showing 8% of the £3.2bn had been spent on children’s services. In an answer to a Parliamentary question published this week, the children’s minister Vicky Ford said the government was aware that local authorities and fostering agencies “are responding to the challenge by finding innovative ways to continue to support their foster carers”, and would be monitoring the situation over the coming weeks and months.
‘We are being pressurised’
Elsewhere, the survey found that a minority of foster carers had felt pushed into taking part in potentially risky activities.
Ten per cent of foster carers said they had felt pressured to send a child to school against their wishes during lockdown – an issue that IFCA has recently taken up with at least one council.
Many social workers who have been in touch with Community Care during the pandemic have said their employers have taken a relatively soft line on parents and carers of ‘vulnerable’ children – who have had their school places kept open – keeping them at home due to justified fears over infection.
Meanwhile 7% of survey respondents said they had been asked to undertake in-person adoption introductions while restrictions have been in place, and 14% said they had been asked to attend face-to-face contact sessions.
“What is best and safe for our family is not being considered at all,” said one respondent. “We are being pressurised by a social worker who admits to being terrified to leave her house – this is not acceptable.”
‘Important positive message’
Sarah Anderson, a director of IFCA, told Community Care that “the important message [was] a positive one in regards to three-quarters of foster carers saying the support from their frontline social workers was good to excellent”.
But this did not always reflect foster carers’ opinions of organisations, rather than individuals, and should be seen in the context of an overall experience that nationally was still too inconsistent, she said.
Anderson added that for many foster carers and children, the new, more flexible and informal ways of working introduced during coronavirus – such as contact by social media or video call – had been beneficial and that IFCA would like to see these continue. In a recent interview with Community Care, the ADCS chair Jenny Coles said that many children’s services leaders were of the same view.
Ford, the children’s minister, announced this week that, subject to consultation, regulatory flexibilities around carrying out virtual visits could be extended beyond 25 September when they are due to expire. But consultation documents subsequently published state that the government envisages this would only be permitted due to local lockdowns or families self-isolating.
Responding to the survey findings, Andy Elvin, the chief executive of the TACT fostering and adoption charity, said the organisation had now “provided extra financial support for all our foster carers, as the DfE chose not to, despite the reality that most carers clearly faced additional costs”.
“A survey of TACT carers showed that over 90% were happy with the service we offered through lockdown but only 60% were satisfied with the service they received from their foster child’s local authority,” Elvin added.