Children & Young People Opinion

Tackling England’s foster carer crisis

Martin Leitch, Head of Fostering Operations, Five Rivers Child Care

I recently read an article on the Guardian online written by Michael Savage, on the Foster Care crisis. The Social Market Foundation’s stats that were quoted are stark, estimating a shortfall of 25,000 foster families over the next five years. Whilst some might say we’re heading for a foster carer recruitment crisis; I sometimes feel like we’re living one right now and that this is just the tip of the iceberg.

As we make a slow and meandering recovery from the pandemic, I worry deeply about the devasting and long-lasting impact it will have had on some of England’s most vulnerable children and families. The safety nets that are usually in place to spot and protect children at risk were snatched away overnight. The pressures on these families were heightened by job losses, home schooling and an absence of wider familial support due to social distancing rules. The backlog in the family courts means, in some cases, children will come into foster care more traumatised and with greater needs. Will there be enough families ready and waiting to look after them? I’m not so sure.

We support the call to Government to run a national foster carer recruitment campaign. There’s never been a more crucial time for us all to pull together and raise awareness of fostering and debunking some of the myths that still exist around fostering would be a crucial part of this campaign. We encourage those in Government working on this initiative to take a two-pronged approach; 1) to learn from those in the sector about what works to incentivise people to foster and 2) to engage with long standing carers to overcome what might prevent this loyal, dedicated workforce from standing down from their crucial roles.

Respite care, which was referenced in the article, is critical but with a looming recruitment crisis we risk not having suitable respite homes available. Ensuring we have well trained, well supported respite carers is fundamental. Without suitable families available to offer temporary homes whilst our carers take a holiday, the pressure on them becomes too much, which risks the family environment becoming unsustainable. This cannot happen in a functional and effective foster care service.

We also welcome the idea of a fostering charter. We have seen half-hearted attempts at charters in years gone by, but these have never gone far enough or stood the test of time. All fostering providers should be held to account with national minimum standards. We should all be able to evidence that we properly pay, train, and look after our carers too.

Supporting your workforce is key too, not just with good training and supervision but by providing the right cushion of resource. As a regulated service we must provide support to our carers through our qualified social workers, but I believe that we should provide more than the minimum required by legislation and look at other roles, fostering support workers. These are crucial roles in our Five Rivers Child Care fostering service.

Fortunately, we haven’t seen a mass exodus of our carers here at Five Rivers Child Care but we’re acutely aware of the pressures the pandemic has put on them. We have thanked and acknowledged our incredible carers who opened their doors, when many others were closing. Can we thank them enough? I’m not sure we can. Can we take curative action today? I think we can.

@five_rivers

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