Fostering services need to reach out to wider range of carers
The care system is facing major challenges as the number of looked after children rises and retiring foster carers are not replaced fast enough, Children’s Minister Tim Loughton will warn tonight.
Mr Loughton, speaking at the Fostering Network’s Celebration of Fostering at the Royal Festival Hall, will praise the dedication and excellence of existing foster carers in giving children loving, stable homes – often for many years.
But he will urge fostering services not to be blinkered when considering who has the capacity to foster and to reach out to a wider pool of potential carers – able to help the increasingly challenging needs of children coming in care.
He argues there will be a rising turnover of foster carers over coming years, caused in part by an aging workforce – the vast majority are already in their late forties to mid-50s. He said without younger and skilled foster carers coming forward, the current shortfall of carers will only grow.
The Fostering Network said last week that an extra 8750 foster carers are needed across the UK this year alone. The Network said that three out of five fostering services are “desperately seeking foster carers”; and that 98 per cent were looking for more foster families for teenagers than last year.
Announcing measures to strengthen foster carers’ recruitment and retention, he will call on more fostering services to target those in caring professions, like nursing, teaching and social work, as potential foster carers.
He will argue that fostering services need to be far more innovative in recruiting younger carers – encouraging them to come forward by, for example, letting people know about opportunities for short stay fostering and not turning away people who work outside the home unless there is a good reason.
And Mr Loughton will also call on more big employers to give foster carers the same rights to flexible working and time off, as to any other parent. He will say it is wrong to penalise them in effect for their commitment to turning around the most vulnerable children’s lives.
He will say more should follow in the footsteps of Tesco and O2, which have introduced “foster family friendly” policies – to help their staff provide stable, secure homes for some of the country’s most vulnerable children.
This includes allowing them to take five days off for pre-approval training; flexible working to help foster children settle in at home; shift swapping schemes to help foster carers juggle commitments; and having the same access to emergency compassionate leave as any parents with their own children do.
He says the government will make this easier with the forthcoming Children and Families Bill including legislation to expand flexible working and shared parental leave.
More children are coming into care, with varied and often very challenging needs. We need more foster carers to come forward to deal with the ticking timebomb as existing foster carers come up to retirement. We need to be recruiting from the widest pool of potential carers, making it as easy as possible for people who are able meet children’s needs to come forward.
The vast majority of children in care are fostered at some stage – so we need to make the system work better. It is wrong to turn a blind eye to anyone who has the skills and qualities to give young people a stable nurturing home, whether they are younger or older, and whether or not they are in a job or working with children already.
Employers should give foster carers the same rights as they do with any other parent – it’s completely wrong to penalise them in effect for their commitment to turning around the most vulnerable children’s lives. Tesco and O2 have set the standard for others to follow by introducing foster family friendly policies. And I am delighted that the Department for Education will be making it easier for its staff who want to foster alongside employment.
Department for Education
24 May 2012