Foster carers’ play an essential role in providing a secure and loving environment for looked after children; a safe place for them to live for days, weeks, months or even years in some cases. Often at a vulnerable time in the child or young person’s life, foster carers provide a loving, stable home where the child’s individual needs should be met. However, in 2016, it was reported that over 9000 more fostering households were urgently needed to cope with the demand, with a new care order being implemented every 22 minutes. Today, approximately 69, 000, around 85% of the looked after children and young people in the UK are in foster care placements.
As a result, local authorities across the country are doing their utmost to encourage more people to consider fostering and everyone has a part to play in ensuring retention and placement success. We explore this further, including an overview of the eligibility requirements, the impact of placement breakdown, and an in-depth look into the role of the supervising social worker.
Eligibility and Requirements
People often assume that foster carers have to be married or own their property, which is not the case. However, there are a few mandatory requirements for fostering, including:
The foster parent (s) home can be owned or rented, but they must have a spare bedroom that is suitable for a child.
Foster parents must be over the age of 21, but there is no upper age limit.
They should be healthy and fit to care for the child as well as being willing to do a medical.
They should also be committed to ongoing training and development to ensure the continued delivery of the best possible care.
There are several different types of fostering, which helps to ensure that each child is placed in the best possible home. Foster carers will receive funds to assist with the care of the child, with the amount being dependent on individual needs. However, being a foster parent can be a full-time job and several groups are lobbying for carers to also receive a salary.
Placement Moves and Breakdowns
When you consider that around 11% of foster children will have three or more placements in one year, it highlights the need to address why so many transitions take place in such a short space of time. Foster placements can break down for a variety of different reasons. However, frequent moves from foster placements are not in the child’s best interest; with stability being associated with more positive outcomes.
A report by the Social Care Institute for Excellence reported that the five main reasons why a child may be moved are:
A change of social worker;
Certain aspects of policy and practice;
And challenges related to the individual child and their needs.
The prevalence of placement breakdowns differs by the age groups, with younger children being less likely to experience unplanned moves. On the other hand, there is a 50% chance of the placement breaking down when teenagers are placed into a foster home. It is always best to avoid moving a child whenever possible, as even when a move is planned it can have a negative impact.
There has also been some suggestion that too many planned moves are also taking place, with one study reporting that some participants were moved up to three times in a year, with ‘planned move’ being given as the reason each time.
The Team Around the Child
Foster carers are key members of the ‘team around the child’; alongside their supervising social worker, the child’s social worker, their birth family and a whole host of other professionals in a multi-agency capacity. However, a national review of Foster Care in England in 2018 reported that some foster carers felt they were not necessarily treated as equal members of the team. Some foster carers have suggested that they are not always given the information or that they hear it second hand rather than being directly included in the discussion. In the best possible scenario, each foster carer will form a relationship with the child in their care. As a result, they are put in a unique position in which they are on hand to listen to the child or young person’s views and perspectives around the clock. Yet, some participants indicated that they may be disregarded when acting as an advocate for them.
The Role of the Social Worker
Each foster carer has a supervising social worker on hand to help with any issues or queries that they may have. This role is a complex one, with multiple roles and responsibilities, such as:
Keeping in contact with the foster carer and the child;
Supporting them at meetings, formal discussions, etc.;
Maintaining contact between the child and their birth family;
Identifying and providing any additional support that the foster carer may require;
Identifying the foster careers needs and how these can be met;
And to make all statutory visits and records.
As part of the team around the child, foster carers will often work in partnership with their supervising social worker as well as the child’s own social worker to ensure the provision of a safe and stable environment. This partnership has significant importance, with evidence that indicates that the relationship formed with the supervisory social worker can have an impact on whether the individual remains a foster carer or not. Furthermore, another study reported that an inconsistent relationship with their supervising social worker can increase the likelihood of placement breakdown.
Fostering better partnerships
To foster partnerships, it is considered that those in social work must aim to:
Improve retention of experienced carers.
Promote realistic expectations.
Ensure continued training and support with opportunities for learning and development.
And maintain frequent contact throughout.
Moreover, social work professionals have a key role to play in ensuring that they facilitate a successful partnership which is premised on open communication, trust and mutual understanding. With so many foster parents needed across the country and thousands of children in need of a place to stray, understanding the roles and responsibilities of a foster carer is essential and emphasising with the challenges that they may face has never been more important.