Rob Halfon: Efforts must be redoubled to ensure Britain values fostering
Some of the most vulnerable young people in our society are being failed by a care system which doesn’t meet their needs, writes Education Committee chair Robert Halfon
Foster carers provide an invaluable service for thousands of young people. Yet as the Education Committee found in our fostering inquiry, the reality is that the foster care system in England is under significant pressure. Some of the most vulnerable young people in our society are being failed by a care system which doesn’t meet their needs. In our report, we have been very clear that efforts need to be redoubled to ensure that as a country that we value foster children, foster carers, and foster care.
For too many children and young people, their experience of care is that of something which is done to them, not with them. As we would expect, there are laws and guidelines intended to encourage placement stability and the involvement of young people in decision-making about their care. But the sad fact is that this isn’t always applied in practice. One young person we heard from said they had been through eight placements in four years, another spoke about having ‘moved six times in less than no time’, while another had lived in thirteen different foster placements and two children’s homes in five years. This frequency of placement can only be damaging to children’s wellbeing, their development and their future prospects. More needs to be done by government to ensure young people and children don’t face the prospect of a dizzying number of foster care placements.
In our report, we also made clear that young people should be placed with their siblings whenever it is possible and appropriate to do so. There must be greater efforts by social workers and others to facilitate regular and meaningful contact when it is not. Indeed, there must be greater involvement and better information for foster children on their placements, and a consistency of practice to ensure all young people are able to benefit from an appropriate and positive experience of foster care.
Foster carers have a really important role in society and often provide fantastic care in difficult circumstances. But foster carers are underappreciated, undermined, and undervalued. We believe the Department for Education should step up and show they truly value foster carers by establishing a national college, which would work towards improving working conditions for carers, provide a resource for training and support, and give them a national voice and representation. It is only right that these hugely committed carers are given the support they need to help improve the lives of the young people in their care. A national recruitment and awareness campaign initiated by the Department for Education could also help to improve capacity in the system.
Too often foster carers also have to trudge through bureaucratic treacle. Too many carers are not adequately supported, neither financially nor professionally, in the vital work that they do. The government needs to ensure all foster carers are paid at least the national minimum allowance. Ministers must also look to make sure this allowance matches rises in living costs and allow carers to meet the needs of those they are caring for.
The government’s move to extend the extra 15 hours a week childcare entitlement to children in foster care is to be welcomed. This followed strong representations from the Education Select Committee and it is much appreciated that Justine Greening and Robert Goodwill acted on this issue. We hope that DfE ministers will seriously consider the recommendations of our fostering report and ensure that children and young people can then receive the help they need to enable them to climb the ladder of opportunity and thrive in their lives ahead.
Robert Halfon is Conservative MP for Harlow and chair of the Education Select Committee