This week I had the pleasure of training colleagues from across the independent fostering sector. Held in Battersea, southwest London, this was the first of four one-day sessions. I was deeply impressed by the commitment, professional analysis and creative ideas which were shared during our course. These contributed much to an enthusiastic and meaningful discussion.
My thanks go to Harvey Gallagher, chief executive of the NAFP, for bringing us all together, and his tireless campaigning work on behalf of independent fostering provider members.
The three largest Government areas of spending are on health care (the NHS), state pensions, and welfare. At the time of last month’s budget, the UK national debt was estimated to be £1.53 trillion:
‘Since 2010, the absolute number of looked after children has grown by 6% since 2011 (65,510). In the year ending 31 March 2015, 69,540 children were looked after by local authorities in England; 60 per 10,000 children under 18 years. The number of looked after children has increased over the past seven years and is higher than any point since 1985.’
(Source: Children in Care in England: Statistics, Briefing Paper number 04470, 5 October 2015, by Yago Zayed and Rachael Harker.)
Consequently, Government policy has been unavoidably influenced by fiscal restraints in all areas. Public sector providers of children’s services, including council fostering agencies, protected from funding cuts for as long as possible, finally had to accept the inevitable reduction in budgetary spending, with the loss of jobs, cuts in services, and increases in scrutiny and performance management by Ofsted and others.
For some local authorities, their transition from providers to commissioners of children’s services, with the formation of Doncaster Children’s Services Trust in October 2014, and more recently, Slough Children’s Services Trust, in October 2015 may have come more swiftly than anticipated. However, both have ambitious improvement goals.
As a working group, we collectively forecasted a likely rise in demand for fostering placements outside of London for unaccompanied minors in the coming years. We also anticipate an increased need for independent support from local authorities for more therapeutically intensive placements which is the past may have become external residential or secure placements.
These challenges, and more, mean that local authorities and independent fostering agencies must proactively share one collective aim: to bring more new foster carers into the national workforce.
Poaching campaigns that offer experienced foster carers ‘golden handshakes’ and other financial inducements are, in my view as an adult care leaver with 20 years’ professional recruitment marketing experience, a selfish fix for the temporary benefit of one fostering provider out of hundreds nationally.
Worse, to foster carers, and the general public, this portrays the children’s services sector as exploitative profiteers of vulnerable children and young people. The actions of a few are tarnishing the hard won reputations of others. This hinders, rather than enables, the collaborative work that will be needed across our sector if we are to effectively meet the challenges of the future.
Such disingenuous recruitment tactics also diminish the incredible generosity of spirit offered by foster carers as they open their homes, their lives and their families, to give traumatised, abandoned youngsters a chance of a better life and much improved opportunities to grow into confident and self supporting adults, with the attendant long terms benefits for British society.
It is as though the love offered by foster carers can be bought by the highest bidder, an approach I find insulting to my own foster carers over the years. Taking the sloppy shortcut to foster carer recruitment by targeting those approved elsewhere is not a viable, fair, or dignified way to manage the challenges of today and the future.
Local authority, charity, or independent fostering provider, I believe all should work ethically, with integrity and professionalism towards the greater good. Everybody counts. Whatever our roles within fostering agencies, or for those of us supporting agencies, we all have an opportunity to improve placement choice for vulnerable kids and young people who need it.