I have been working for an independent fostering agency for four years. This was the latest step in a career rooted in marketing and recruitment. We have a foster care crisis – with a shortage of 8,500 foster families this year. The focus, therefore, for everyone in fostering provision is to recruit more foster carers. Easier said than done – 65% of children now coming into care arrive having suffered some form of neglect and/or abuse. They are traumatised, in the jargon: having complex behavioural and emotional needs.
Blindly appealing to peoples good intentions to become foster carers is running out of steam. This is because the reality is fostering demands high levels of resilience. Without these, placements routinely breakdown causing fresh psychological problems to some already pretty damaged youngsters. And, in quite a few instances, well-motivated people then give up fostering as a consequence. For them, it too will have been a distressing experience.
Overall, we cannot claim to have a system that is fit for purpose. How can it be when only 6% of care experienced children go on to higher education? This is against 49% of the general population. It has been argued recently the true figure is 12% only because this draws in young people graduating at a slightly older age. Such figures are far from satisfactory. They do not look like improving soon as children with behavioural problems are now running the gauntlet of being ‘off rolled’ by schools. When this happens, the possibility of educational attainment becomes negligible. And even more troubling is the increased risk of involvement with gangs with the inevitable scrapes with the law.
The general situation is becoming alarming. The Children’s Commissioner for England last year described that the risks to children are ‘the biggest social justice challenge of our time’. And this May the Commissioner warned in her own report that ‘vulnerable children with learning disabilities are stuck in mental health hospitals for long periods and in poor conditions’.
Recruitment is the key
Foster children are already among the most vulnerable in society. The fostering industry has recognised in the face of such findings and statistics, that a new breed of foster carer is needed: the therapeutically-trained carer. This person will have received special training enabling them to create a supportive environment for a child or young person who has suffered trauma. The carer will be able to appreciate the experiences of the child and their negative impacts. Understanding what has gone wrong, means the carer will have the skills to support the child’s emotional, psychological, and social development.
Work has been done – supported by the leading charity The Fostering Network – to identify the ideal traits looked for in foster carers. And there is cause to be optimistic.One research highlights that 73% of foster carers have a ‘values set’ in common with being described as a ‘pioneer’. The national average in the country of other people in the country sharing such values is around 30%. Pioneers, it emerged, are individuals with a highly developed sense of the difference between right and wrong. Perhaps, most significantly of all, they are extremely concerned about the environment and the nature of the society we live in. They are people with powerful desires to really make a positive difference in the world.
The decision to not have children must be one of the most profound a woman or man can make. Nonetheless, we now have BirthStrike which is a group for those who have decided against having children. The reason: the impending climate catastrophe and the breakdown of civilisation likely to follow in its wake. Begun by Blythe Pepino, BirthStrike seems to have motivated at least 140 individuals – mostly woman – to reject having their own children. This is sad; but clearly for some, an understandable response to climate change.
Such fears could mean we now have a growing number of people with all the right ‘motivations to foster’ – as the well-worn phrase goes. Individuals, clearly pioneers of a sort, denying themselves the opportunity of having their own children. But who could make a profound difference in the lives of children already here: a climate cloud with a silver lining, perhaps.
William Saunders works within the marketing department of Rainbow Fostering.