The Fostering Network explains its involvement in the Care Inquiry.
New stats out last week show that more children than ever are living with foster families in England – tonight over 50,000 will be sleeping in foster homes across the country.
But what happens to those children from tomorrow morning will vary hugely, and is not always in their best interests.
Some will go home or go to live with other family members, but most will stay in care for many for years. The lucky ones find a family who will love them and help them achieve their potential, with whom they can live for as long as they want. The family may be foster carers, adopters or special guardians; what is important is that the child or young person feels they belong and that they receive the care they need. But far too many children just drift through the system, moving too often and do not find a family that is right for them.
Children who get moved around unsurprisingly tend to do less well at school and are likely to find it harder to make friends and keep relationships. As they grow older they are much less likely to remain in education and are more likely to become unemployed.
The current Government is concerned about this problem too. Its answer has been to concentrate most on improving adoption and in particular to reduce unnecessary delays. This is to be welcomed, but an overwhelming emphasis on adoption risks distorting decision making and may not be in the best interests of all children in care. The vast majority of children who come into care will neither want or need to be adopted. They will need someone to offer them stability, security and love, while often keeping in contact with some members of their birth families.
Fostering, adoption, special guardianship, being cared for by friends and families, even a children’s home can all provide this solution. But the problems start when some options are seen as poor relations, and local authorities feel they have to choose one over the other as a result of political pressure and targets.
Making decisions and long term plans for children in care can be enormously difficult. Deciding whether siblings can grow up together, for example, or whether it may be better for them to be separated, is never easy and when local authorities have to make these decisions it is vital that they listen and take account of the views of the children and their carers. Sometimes separating siblings will be right, at others times it will be in their interests for every effort to be made to enable them to live together. What is always right is that all the options are treated as truly equal, with the same financial and political effort given to make them work for children. I want to see a system where the right family is found for every child, with less focus on legal status and more on meeting their needs.
The Fostering Network and its members have a powerful voice, but we are known as an organisation that speaks about fostering. Sorting out the care system goes much further than just sorting out fostering. And that’s why the Fostering Network was very keen to set up the Care Inquiry, joining with other organisations whose expertise sits in other aspects of the care system. Together we can have a much bigger voice.
Over the next four months we will hear from experts from right across the sector, as well as those who have lived and worked within the care system. This includes young people. We will be looking at the evidence and listening to experience to help us produce recommendations for government on the best way to ensure that the right home can be found for all children who cannot live with their birth parents.
By Robert Tapsfield, chief executive of the Fostering Network.