A lack of support for foster carers, along with a failure to recognise the vital role they play at the heart of children’s social care, risks undermining their ability to meet the needs of fostered children, a leading charity is warning today.
The 2019 State of the Nation’s Foster Care report, published today by The Fostering Network, has found that many foster carers – who look after the vast majority of the growing number of children in the care system in the UK – do not feel treated as an equal and valued member of the social care team looking after fostered children, nor do they feel adequately practically and financially supported.
The report is based on the charity’s survey of more than 4,000 foster carers and is widely recognised as the most comprehensive insight into foster carers’ views of fostering in the UK.
Among the key findings, the report finds that:
- Six in 10 foster carers say that the allowance – the money they are given to spend on a fostered child – does not meet the full costs, with many saying that they are having to dip into their own pockets.
- Too many foster carers do not feel that they are treated as an equal and valued member of the team by their fostered child’s social workers, with only 58 per cent saying that they do.
- When being asked to look after a child outside of their usual age range and expertise, more than three-quarters of foster carers are not given the additional support or training which would allow them to best meet the child’s particular needs.
- Fostering can be a challenging and emotionally draining job and yet only about a third of foster carers feel that the provision of a short break from fostering when they need it is excellent or good. This risks burn out and a fostering relationship coming to an unnecessary end.
The figures also reveal that many foster carers look after children with far more complex needs than their peers outside of the care system, highlighting the increasing demands on the role.
For example, the report indicates that:
- In the past 24 months, 43 per cent of foster carers have looked after a child who has either had involvement with the police, caused violence in their home or gone missing from home. According to a YouGov survey of 1,000 parents, this compares with just eight per cent of parents coping with the same three challenges from any of their children.
- 48 per cent of foster carers say that they are supporting fostered children with mental health needs who are not accessing specialist support.
The report outlines a range of recommendations looking at government investment and legislative change as well as practice issues at a local level.
Chief executive of The Fostering Network, Kevin Williams, said: ‘Every day foster carers are looking after 65,000 of the UK’s most vulnerable children, many of whom have had very traumatic starts to life and need expert and loving care to help them turn their lives around. A decade of austerity and subsequent cuts to early intervention and key family support services have led to more children coming into care with more challenging needs. At the same time these budget cuts also mean that, at the time when they most need it, foster carers are not receiving the support, training and respect that they need to do this difficult role to the best of their ability.
‘It is essential that foster carers are treated as key members of the social care team, and are given all the financial and practical support required, so that they can do their job properly – which is to focus on individual children’s needs and helping those children to thrive.
‘As well as practice improvements, this requires proper investment from central governments in fostering and the support services that these families and children need access to. That’s why we are urging governments across all four countries to ensure adequate funding and to work with fostering services and foster carers to implement the report’s recommendations in order to make foster care the very best it can be.’
Credit: The Fostering Network