TACT – the UK’s largest fostering charity, welcomes the publication of what is in the new DfE Social Care Implementation Strategy, including the pledge of £25 million over two years for foster carer recruitment and retention. However, there are some question marks, and disappointing omissions.
Increase of the foster carer allowance
To start with the positives, the DfE’s promise to provide above-inflation increase of the foster carer allowance by raising the national minimum allowance to cover the rise in the cost of caring for a child caused by the cost-of-living crisis. This is a welcome move for retention of fostering families and has been consistently campaigned for by TACT. But we worry that many foster carers will not benefit from this proposal as with over 47,000 fostering households, and around 57,500 children in foster care, it will be interesting to see the detail of how this will be achieved with inflation at 9.2%.
Foster carer recruitment
The national shortage of foster carers is an impending crisis for vulnerable children and young people, so TACT is particularly pleased that a government backed foster carer recruitment drive is on the horizon. TACT has long called for a government funded campaign to enlist more people into the vital vocation of fostering. However, offering better funding for existing failed recruitment approaches will not deliver value for money or the numbers of new foster carers needed. This should be done in conjunction with new approaches to recruitment so that any new interest in fostering generated is not lost as local authorities are not geared up to manage an increase in enquiries.
Regional Care Co-ops
We very much welcome the move to fund pathfinders’ groups of local authorities to implement the key Care Review recommendation for Regional Care Co-ops (RCCs). However any pilots must be part of a wider plan that clearly signals when the legislation needed to enact RCCs more widely will be introduced. Too many pilots peter out, implementing pathfinders does make sense, but must be part of a wider implementation plan that makes clear the direction of travel and timescales for this.
Support for Kinship care
While we specialise in providing foster families, TACT has keenly championed the need to give the right support to birth families, so that more children can either remain at home with their parents, or with their extended families in kinship care. The DfE commitment to providing training and support for kinship carers is therefore a fantastic development.
TACT would like to point out that there is already great training and support for adopters and foster carers, which would be equally valuable to kinship carers and should therefore be made available to them. There is no sense in building another silo, let’s bring support for all alternative families together. The links that foster carers, adopters and kinship cares can make with each other through shared training and support will be invaluable in developing peer support, resilience, and stability.
We also recommend harnessing the expertise of experienced foster carers to support birth parents and kinship carers through buddying or mentoring schemes. Parents of children returning home from being in care would particularly benefit from such one on one, bespoke help, and there is plenty of expertise available to implement it.
Leaving Care Allowance and Staying Put
TACT welcomes the proposal to increase the leaving care allowance from £2,000 to £3,000 from April this year, and the increase to the bursary available from £1000 to £3,000. However, this does not offset the failure of the new Strategy to acknowledge the need to properly fund Staying Put. The current financial arrangements put foster carers at a severe disadvantage and mean that they end up subsidising the State. Costs of caring for 18–21-year-olds are certainly no less, and arguably more, than for 13–17-year-olds, and allowances need to reflect that. The underfunding of Staying Put is limiting take-up and meaning that far too many children in foster care are not able to stay with their foster family until they are 21.
Where is lifelong support?
This leads to the other major omission, where is the commitment to being there lifelong for adults who grew up in public care? The absence of better support for people leaving care and a firm commitment to making ‘care experience’ a protected characteristic under the Equalities Act is a significant missed opportunity. If the State cannot show that commitment to its own children, then it is failing as a parent.
Once the State decides to remove a child from their birth family and become their legal parent then it has made a commitment for life, not until they are 18, 21, 25 or any other arbitrary age that it decides parental responsibility expires from.
The Strategy’s range of help and plans for improvement are of course welcome but are concentrated over a period of two years, which does not correspond with the often-long term commitment of care many foster carers make to children and young people, supporting them through to adulthood. Decisions on children’s social care need to be thought of in generational terms not political cycles.
TACT appreciates the aspiration at the heart of the new DfE Social Care Implementation Strategy to provide safe and stable homes, built on love. Significant numbers of children will remain in foster care and residential care, so we need to transform the care system as the Competition and Markets Authority and the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care suggested. TACT believes that the key to successfully managing and implementing the DfE’s strategy would be to move to regional care co-ops and national care service.
This is a once in a generation chance to reform children’s social care, but we must be bold, and we must be led by the voices of those with care experience.
What our foster carers say:
Staying Put, Leaving Care and the DfE implementation strategy
“Staying Put is something that needs to be looked at. When a child reaches 18 their needs don’t change, the cost to care for them is the same. However, the current financial element for a carer is huge and puts so much pressure on them to often have to make a choice as to whether they can financially still maintain and meet the now 18-year-old’s needs. The Staying Put allowance is so much less than a Foster Allowance. This isn’t working therefore and forcing young people into the big wide world so unprepared and vulnerable. If the Staying Put scheme was funded correctly these young people would be able to continue to stay within the Fostering family until they were ready.”
“In my eyes Staying Put is really not working as the financial arrangements and support from the LA (local authority) is greatly reduced i.e. the LA social worker is not involved with the children at all. I think this is the start of the problems and the placements then break down. The foster children are basically left to get on with it which can lead to them becoming homeless or getting in with the wrong groups such as criminals and radicalisation groups.”
“People leaving care need more commitment from the State, they are removed from their birth family through no fault of their own, there needs to be better support and a firm commitment to making care experience a protected characteristic under the Equality Act.”
“Surely it’s wrong when the State removes a child from their birth family and doesn’t support the child until they are financially secure to look after themselves. It can’t be right for the State not to support them anymore. As in some cases, all other family relationships have been withdrawn from the children and they might have been moved into a completely new town where they are not known at all, which is for their own good when being cared for, but not when left to their own devices.”
“The DfE strategy and its aim to improve the care system for children should not just be over a period of 2 years. As a long-term foster carer myself, caring for siblings aged 7 and 12, I will be supporting them as long as is needed and will make sure they have everything needed to get a good start in life for when they decide to leave home. I understand that not all foster carers are able to do this financially even though they may want to. This is why the strategy needs to be over a lot more time than two years because fostering can last a lifetime like any parental support.”
“TACT has helped their foster cares through the cost of living crisis. But the increase in the Foster Carer Allowance is important and needs to be above inflation. We are losing foster carers and not having as many come forward to foster. So increasing the allowance is needed to help the retention of the carers we have; more children are coming into the care system. There is always a shortage of foster carers which I envisage is not going to improve until the Fostering Allowance is on par with the cost of living”.