13 September 2016
FOLLOWING WEEKS of controversy CYP Now reported that Foster Care Associates, the UK’s largest fostering agency, announced that it would no longer offer a “Golden Hello” to entice foster carers from other services to transfer, a move that was welcomed by other agencies and commentators on Twitter.
There has long been an undercurrent of mistrust between many fostering agencies and local authorities: the latter claim that they pay more for foster care provided by agencies and that in the cases of some commercially run agencies this goes into the pockets of shareholders or venture capitalists. Agencies have stories of how some of their carers are pressured into transferring to a local authority if they want to continue caring for a particular child. Recently Sir Martin Narey stoked the flames around foster care recruitment in his review of residential care, in which he recorded claims of “an increasing dislocation between the types of foster carer generally recruited and the needs of children needing to be fostered” (TWiF 12 July).
To get a scale of the recruitment challenge, the Fostering Network regularly publishes its recruitment targets. This is the number of extra foster carers it says are needed in the next 12 months to meet a potential shortfall resulting from carers retiring or simply not being in the right place or having the right resources to care for the children coming into care. There is an ongoing shortfall of carers for teenagers, sibling groups and children with disabilities. Unaccompanied asylum seekers are a newer group that the network has added to that list. Currently it says the shortfall is 9,070.
But James Cleary who recruits for Greater London Fostering warns that this figure and the message behind it can work against recruiting more carers. In the Huffington Post he says that statements about the shortfall of carers “implore you to consider the impact you could have on a young person’s life if you made room in your heart and home to become a foster carer”. Unfortunately reading the same statements year after year means they lose impact and make the situation seem “quite hopeless” rather than inspiring more potential carers to come forward.
By contrast the Social Care Institute for Excellence suggests that fostering agencies and services need to keep the profile of fostering “consistently high” with the most successful recruitment coming from the involvement of foster carers themselves – a point that most agencies have taken on board. The Fostering Network also regularly reviews the motivations and values of foster carers as does the Rees Centre. Interestingly a number of studies conclude that while money is not a motivator for people to start fostering the lack of it is one reason why people give it up.
But the national shortage of carers remains and is not helped by the continuing rise in the number of children coming into care – and the influx of unaccompanied minors, a vast number of whom continue to be cared for by Kent County Council.
AND FINALLY some wider food for thought about the future of fostering comes from the American Chronicle for Social Change which suggests that the shortage of foster families comes from a more fundamental change in the country’s social structures. The rise of the two income household and the loss of family networks as people move to urban areas mean there are fewer “parents” about it suggests. “The composition of the average family has undergone radical changes over the past two generations, and our foster care system has not,” it concludes.