Solving the problem of a lack of foster carers is, of course, about a better digital service and sharing data. It’s also about supporting people.
Following on from my previous post, we identified how supporting foster carers, all the way through their fostering lifecycle, could have a significant impact on keeping people involved. We outlined how starting with improving the application process and opening up data about vacancies and capacity, we can start to make a big difference to the number of people who can care for looked after children.
Indeed, last week, the awaited national stocktake of fostering concluded with a published report of the state of fostering in England. In it, Sir Martin Narey and Mark Owers, highlighted an opportunity to better understand the existing capacity.
“… our understanding of the availability and skills of foster carers is not good enough. We can’t expect to recruit the right number and type of foster carers and in the right parts of the country, when we know so little about the capabilities and location of current carers.
More needs to be done to understand the number and needs of children in care (the demand) and the number of carers and their ability to care for different sorts of children (the supply) and the interplay between the two.” — Foster Care in England, 2018
But these approaches alone will have a limited impact on capacity. Here, we make the case for developing and supporting existing and potential foster carers, so that more people either continue to foster or consider starting to in the first place.
Standardising training and development
Every local authority trains their foster carers in different things. Whether it’s therapeutic courses for managing children’s behaviours or training to manage contact between families and children. They also reward their carers in completely different ways; some assign levels to progression, other choose to adopt a more informal approach.
This means that should a foster carer move or decide to start working for a different authority or agency, they go back to square one with basic training. This wouldn’t be expected of other professions; your skills and experience are built on as you progress through your career.
The benefits of working more in the open and collaborating are widely accepted. By creating a standard, open sourced model for developing the skills and recognising the experience of carers, they will have more flexibility about where they work. This means they will be less likely to stop being a carer as their lives change.
This need for greater consistency is also recognised by Sir Martin Narey and Mark Owers as part of their review.
“We warmly endorse tiered approaches to paying fees, linked to the skills and experience of the carers. Implemented widely, such models could drive greater consistency in fostering, aid better matching between child and carer and would provide improved knowledge about the skills of the foster carer population.” — Foster Care in England, 2018
Additionally, open sourcing the materials, allows all localities to learn from each other. Through which they can improve on what works and build a collective view on how progression should look, together.
Helping people get application ready
Lots of people are interested in fostering as way of helping children; driven by personal experience or a sense of duty. They’re looking to make a difference.
Despite their motivations, many are not practically in a position to foster and are often turned away at the first hurdle. One local authority claims that 32% of enquiries get closed because people don’t have a spare room.
Here’s an opportunity for authorities to help people get ‘application ready’. Whether that’s helping someone who is in a full time job find more flexible work or someone who currently smokes, to give up. Instead of operating in a vacuum, fostering services should have good relationships with their housing, employment and health services to enable people to get into a better position to foster. Investing in the potential for people to foster will mean more enquiries turn into approved foster carers.
Breaking down the role of a foster carer
You have to be superhuman to become a carer — someone who has both the right attitude and desire to spend most of their time looking after a child who isn’t theirs but desperately needs a home. Someone with good health, a spare room in their home, no financial problems and have time to deal with emergencies at the drop of a hat. For someone to do all of this and not get paid a huge amount, is asking a lot.
This is no doubt putting a lot of people off wanting to become a foster carer, or at least a foster carer in the way in which the role is defined at the moment.
We’ve met people who are interested in helping vulnerable children but can’t commit the time or emotional ask that is needed to become a carer. But within these people is a desire to give back and help these young people, a desire that’s not being tapped into.
… if someone is highly qualified and has the skills, expertise and something that they can be further harnessed. If they can offer a Saturday morning, school pickup or evening runs, to help. You can have a range of people that are approved that can sit in when foster carers need a break… — Foster Carer
Most children are parented by a number of people as they grow up; their parents usually play a central role but grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbours and friends all play an important part in raising a child. Although foster carers rely on their own support networks to help out, it may be possible to create new supporting roles around foster carers that would ease the pressure. Someone may be a potential coach or mentor for the child, a taxi driver for school runs or an entertainer for young people and carers to get some respite.
As one carer we met put it, “fostering is more than just a bed”.
Changing the future of fostering, together
Working with a number of authorities, FutureGov have developed a significant and growing expertise around what a better fostering service looks like, in particular, how local authorities might manage future demand by increasing their capacity to care for young people.
Building on the ideas laid out in these two posts, we’re setting up a forum to discuss the future of fostering. It will be an exciting opportunity to explore how we can help change the future of fostering to response to current demands.
We would like to invite leaders and practitioners to contribute to the discussion. We’ll be publishing more information about this shortly, in the meantime let me know if you’d like to stay posted by getting in touch: email@example.com
Solving the problem of not enough foster carers: Part two was originally published in FutureGov on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.