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Lucy Stevens - 21st September 2021
As Placements Manager at Eastern Fostering Services, I read hundreds of referrals a month for children who are in need of a foster carer. Whilst the trends I am speaking about are anecdotal, I get a good insight into what the national picture is when it comes to foster care.
How are foster carers found for the children who need them?
As a small fostering agency, Eastern Fostering Services receive requests for foster carers (referrals) from several Local Authorities. Many of these come from “local” Local Authorities: in our case, Essex, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire as well as Norfolk and London. But we also receive requests from Local Authorities as far south as Devon and as far North as York.
These local authorities email us daily asking us if we have a suitable match for any of the children they need to place into foster care. The onus then falls on us to look at the needs and requirements of the children and weigh them against any available matches we have with our available foster carers.
Matching is extremely important. It is vital for the child that they are placed with carers who are experienced and skilled enough to meet their specific needs. This ensures that the child is given the best possible quality of care. Matching children and foster carers is about safe and appropriate caring and about creating an experience for the child that is positive and life changing. If matching is not done correctly, children’s adverse experiences can be further compounded causing yet more emotional damage to them.
It is also important that the foster carers are matched with the correct child. Every foster carer should be set up to succeed. They will be caring for a child 24/7 in difficult circumstances; it is therefore imperative that matching is done as carefully and thoughtfully as possible. Only when we have thoroughly considered all of the risks, challenges and positive synergies will we put carers forward to the Local Authority for a child.
This approach, whilst absolutely right, does mean that when there is not a big enough pool of available foster carers, we have to turn away hundreds of children each month. Each child we are able to place in a warm, safe and nurturing home, feels like a victory against the odds.
The microscope that is Covid…
Since the pandemic and the social isolation it has brought about, we have been worried about what life has been like for the most vulnerable families, and particularly the children living in them. When the restrictions were lifted, it felt like the floodgates opened. We started to see a steep increase in the numbers of referrals and noticed some worrying trends.
More teens than ever needing a foster carer.
Many families have reached breaking point it would seem. Families who were already struggling with mental health, substance abuse, domestic violence or stress related to finances have now been put into acute crisis. Many teens will have been living in a family experiencing acute stress for years and this has had an impact on their own mental health and wellbeing. Many of these teens do not have a secure home and are vulnerable to all manner of exploitation. The truth is, there are not enough carers who are prepared to foster teens to enable Local Authorities to support these young people in the way they need and deserve.
Foster care for Sibling groups
We have seen a big increase in larger groups of siblings needing foster carers. These are siblings of all ages who are no longer being kept safe at the family home or who are at real risk of emotional or physical harm. For these children, it is often so important that they are kept together, and Local Authorities are seeking carers who can take all of the children together. Due to the shortage of carers, many of the carers with availability no longer have the room to accommodate these sibling groups. Many of the children we are seeing are very young and have been exposed to severe trauma which has worsened over the lockdowns. They have experienced domestic violence and physical, emotional and sexual abuse. They are often highly traumatised and complex children who require very skilled and experienced foster carers. These carers are in high demand and low supply.
Parent and child foster care requests
It’s evident from the seriousness of the situation we are facing in foster care, many families need support and intervention much earlier. In many cases this has been offered but with limited success. It’s clear the wider system needs improving but fostering can play an important role in that early intervention through parent and child fostering.
There are now high numbers of vulnerable young parents who may lack the blueprint for parenting or who may be trying to parent with poor mental health, substance misuse or who may be in exploitative and violent relationships. Parent and child fostering at its best enables young parents who desperately want to parent well to be given support to do just that. It offers the opportunity to break generational trauma and to make a real difference in the lives of parents and the babies they are caring for. We have been seeing a large increase in the need for parent and child fostering as young people struggle to manage the enormity of parenting against the backdrop of mental health illness, family breakdown and violence.
These young parents deserve foster carers who are experienced in this rather niche type of fostering. They deserve warmth, nurture and non-judgmental support. Again, the pool is running dry.
Could you foster?
It’s true that many people have a romantic image when it comes to fostering. In short, they want to foster babies. The truth is that there is so much need, particularly amongst teens, sibling groups and young parents that this image of foster care just doesn’t cut the mustard.
Fostering teens presents its own challenges and many people feel daunted by these, but it also offers great rewards. Having an adult in your life who sees your potential and wants you to succeed can literally save your life. Carers need to be warm, encouraging, good listeners and able to implement boundaries in a reasonable but firm way.
Offering a home for sibling groups can help children maintain those important relationships during a time of distress, trauma and loss. Carers need to be resilient, empathetic and nurturing but they also need to set and maintain safe and secure boundaries to enable children to feel safe.
Caring for a young mum or dad and their baby is a very different fostering experience. It is a complex role that balances support and care for the parent with the immediate priority of ensuring baby’s wellbeing. It is not an easy balance to strike and requires a non-judgmental approach, discernment and attunement. It requires robust and factual reporting skills combined with creative ways of approaching hurdles. It can be a very rewarding experience for the young people and carers alike.
Want to help? Contact us.
If you feel that you have the motivation and the personal qualities to make a difference to the most vulnerable children and young people in your community, please get in touch with us or message us on facebook. We’re always happy to chat with anyone who is thinking of fostering and will take the time to answer all of your questions.