Our national fostering system has been neglected for too long. Despite being the mainstay of our statutory parenting capacity, and despite the needs of children who most need stability and support, it has been impoverished in both policy and system reform.
IMPOWER has worked with children’s services departments for some time; through our projects, we have spoken to more than 2,000 carers over the past five years. Many of the findings in the report chime with our own experiences and I wholeheartedly cheer the central assertion that carers must be better valued in ways which resonate with them.
By taking the time to explore, identify and respond to carers’ values and motivations, some children’s services departments have completely reframed their approach to foster carer recruitment. This has increased the number of people who become foster carers after making an initial enquiry. Indeed, IMPOWER’s successful approach to fostering recruitment and retention developed with Hertfordshire County Council, Family Values, was cited in the report.
The report recommends that councils review how initial enquiries from potential carers are handled. It is typically done too slowly and with insufficient empathy. In a number of authorities we have supported, fewer than one in ten carers who were ultimately approved said that their initial enquiry left them more motivated. This is easily fixed by reinforcing from the very start all the reasons most enquirers are considering such a big decision (eg by sharing first-hand accounts from experienced carers).
A central recommendation in the report is that local authorities should come together into a small number of regional consortia to plan and commission fostering more effectively.
While greater scale would help, it is critical that local children’s needs, achievements and aspirations remain the most important factor in decision making. If the current way of strategic commissioning is failing to develop and manage the market properly, there is a significant risk that bigger commissioning footprints will only compound the problem. Councils must get better at systematic needs assessment and analysis, ensuring that needs, outcomes and resources are properly matched. For more on these issues, see our Valuing Care programme.
3. Support and retention
Our work has shown that a third of carers do not feel valued.
It might seem preposterous, but foster carers are almost never included in review meetings of children in their care. The report recommends changing this, both because it is obviously in the interests of the children in question, and because it can help in retaining and motivating carers.
The report is an overdue reminder that fostering is an amazing act done by amazing people. While we wait to see which recommendations will be adopted by the Government, carers will no doubt ‘keep calm and carry on’. Here’s hoping that they get the increased recognition and support they sorely deserve.
If you’d like to talk to us about any of the above, do get in touch.