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Government's fostering stocktake is a huge opportunity wasted

The Fostering Network – the charity of which I am chief executive – has taken the unusual decision to publish a strongly worded letter sent to the children’s minister, Nadhim Zahawi.

The reason was our extreme disappointment with the fostering stocktake, commissioned by the Department for Education (DfE), and our desire to inform the minister of the overwhelming feeling in the sector that the report is a huge opportunity wasted.

We know that good foster care works, and foster carers make a huge difference to tens of thousands of children’s lives every day. But the system and culture make their jobs so much more difficult, rather than enabling and supporting them to carry out their vital task. We had hoped that the stocktake report would tackle the issues that are widely recognised by those who work in this field.

However, we believe the report has no vision for foster care; instead it seems to view fostering as a stepping stone to adoption or special guardianship orders. It fails to address key issues the sector is experiencing – not least how foster carers are viewed and treated.

While we agree with a number of the recommendations, they are largely superficial and will only scratch the surface; the report makes almost no recommendations that will have any significant impact on transforming foster care. There is nothing radical or brave in the report, nor anything the DfE did not know before the stocktake.

Given that this was a review of foster care, the voice of the foster carer and of children and young people is woefully absent. In particular, the authors show very little understanding of the complex nature of fostering and its different roles for different children, and – insultingly – effectively dismiss long-term fostering as a permanence option by suggesting children should be moved on to special guardianship orders and adoption to avoid the problems of staying put. Hardly a child-centred approach.
The stocktake team received 300 pieces of evidence and met hundreds of social workers, foster carers and others in the sector over several months.

We ourselves submitted an official response and several accompanying reports, as well as sharing all the findings of our State of the Nation’s foster care report (based on a survey of more than 2,500 foster carers). We also held a specially convened session on staying put at the team’s request, and invited them to meet our members at a number of our conferences. And yet the report fails to demonstrate how it has drawn on any of the evidence collected, nor does it reflect the comprehensive literature review commissioned by the DfE. It also appears to give too much weight to personal opinions and bases its recommendations on the views of a very small number of people.
We are also surprised by sweeping statements in the report that are backed by little or no evidence, such as saying that “understandably” foster carers of young children and those with no complex needs are not paid. Understandable to whom, and why?

Other unsubstantiated sentences include: “Carers overwhelmingly see fostering as a vocation, and see themselves primarily as substitute parents.” Phrases such as “many”, “often” or “too few” are used with no reference to data, when the findings of the State of the Nation – representing 2,500 foster carers’ views – are not referred to at all.
We fail to see how the stocktake has been value for taxpayers’ money or a good use of the sector’s time over the past year.

Indeed, we are not alone in the view that this report is a missed opportunity. The outcry in the sector has been significant and there appears to be very few who think the report worthy of the time and effort put into it.

The Fostering Network is extremely concerned that any plans built around this stocktake will just tinker around the edges and fail to make any demonstrable difference on the lives of children and the families that dedicate themselves to looking after them. Our letter urges the minister to ensure this is not the case and that the government’s response to this report looks beyond its recommendations, setting out a long-term and ambitious plan to make foster care the very best it can be.

By Kevin Williams

5 March 2018 


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