Annex: Record of informal meetings with
foster carers and young people|
Informal meeting with foster carers
Thursday 10 July 2008
These notes are a general account of the opinions
expressed by the group of foster carers who met with Members informally,
under the auspices of The Fostering Network. They were speaking
as individuals, although some had representative roles in various
What foster carers said about fostering:
- "The most rewarding thing
I have ever done [
] to be recommended, if you can manage
- "It is worth doing because of the changes
you can make in a child's life, the happy memories they may leave
with, and the chance you give them to meet the good guys."
- "Fostering would be even more rewarding
if I was given the support to do it to the best of my ability."
- "The best job I've ever done."
Support for foster carers
- Carers were clear that placement
breakdowns usually happen because of lack of support. Breakdowns
mean more disturbance for an already unsettled child, and the
next placement will consequently be even harder. Independent fostering
agencies advertise themselves as offering a better level of support,
in both manpower and financial terms.
- There is a lack of respite care for foster carers.
Whenever respite is put in place, it is usually organised at the
last minute, with children often not getting a chance to meet
the carers first. One carer with an independent agency spoke well
of their planning for respite, however.
- The Fostering Network told us that foster carers
do a lot of work supporting each other that is not always recognised
or appropriately supported by local authoritiesFoster Care
Associations sometimes "pick up the buck" for the councils.
One carer reported that since their local FCA was established,
social services have stepped back from their involvement in recruitment
campaigns, buddying schemes and so on, but they do not provide
any funding for the FCA to do these things on their behalf. There
is perhaps greater scope for local authorities to formally contract
with Foster Care Associations to provide certain types of support.
- Members were urged to think in terms of "foster
families" rather than foster carers. It was emphasised that
everyone in the household and the wider family can make a contribution
to the experience of the child in care, even if those contributions
are rarely attract recognition, support or training. There was
some criticism that a carer's own children find themselves excluded
from activities or courses that the foster child has access to.
- The carers spoke of really inadequate support
for carers dealing with extremely challenging children, who can
cause a great deal of physical damage to their surroundings as
well as emotional distress. Insurance often does not cover the
costs of replacement, cleaning or repair, and it can take a long
time for claims on the local authority's insurance to come through.
One example given was that of a child who frequently wet the bed;
extra costs for laundry had to be fought for from the local authority.
Payments to foster carers
- Inconsistency and anomalies
in fees impact directly on a child's quality of life in care.
- Some carers said that it would not be possible
to keep up a career while also giving the children the support
- The policy on retainers differs. Where no retainers
are paid, it becomes difficult for a carer to maintain their own
family life, and this is a contributory factor to low recruitment.
- One carer argued that foster carers should all
be state-employed, and get the same treatment in terms and conditions
wherever they are. Some, particularly single carers, said that
they would welcome any measures that would enable them to work
full-time as a foster carer, because they felt that this would
be best for the children. However, others felt that having a career
outside fostering was important in them being a good role model
for the children, and one carer said he felt that being a full-time
employee as a carer would alter his relationship with other professionals
in an unhelpful way.
- Carers emphasised that the
difference a good social worker makes to a child is immeasurable.
When the child has an inexperienced social worker, or none at
all, both child and carer suffer; the child feels unwanted and
there is no-one on hand with parental responsibility.
- There are not enough social workers; their caseloads
are too large and they have too much bureaucracy to contend with,
so they cannot spend time with the children. There can be such
a high turnover of social workers that a child can be assigned
a new worker before they have even met the previous one. The best
social workers often end up in fostering recruitment teams rather
than working directly with children. Foster carers have concerns
about the quality of social workers and a lack of professionalism
(failing to return calls, or turning up for meetings unprepared
and without the necessary paperwork).
- One foster carer said that two children for whom
she was currently caring had remained the responsibility of the
Child Protection Investigations team for three years after they
had come into care, which meant that their visits from social
workers were extremely infrequent (one visit in three years).
Since being transferred to another team, the children had had
four different social workers within a year.
- It is becoming rarer for social workers to build
relationships with children. Therefore, there is more expectation
on foster carersbut with less support from other professionals.
- Carers feel that all the work
they do to keep a young person in education can be undermined
by inappropriate placement moves.
- A shortage of foster carers means that children
are placed wherever there is a space, without regard for appropriate
matches. One carer who was approved to care for older children
was asked to take in a baby on an emergency placement at very
short notice, when she did not even have the appropriate equipment
in her house. Sometimes carers can feel under pressure to accept
placements that they know will be made more difficult because
of cultural or other factors, or that might destabilise a child
they are already caring for. Some of this pressure comes from
the prospect of loss of income; generally carers receive no fee
when they do not have a placement, although agencies do differ
in their policies on this.
- There was a great deal of discussion about how
foster carers' skills could be used in other ways when they do
not have a placement, for example by mentoring other foster carers,
or supporting families when children are at home but on supervision
orders. However, the Fostering Services Regulations 2002 (Part
111 under Section 20(6)) prohibit foster carers from working for
their fostering agency for more than five hours a week.
- One carer spoke of their experience offering
a 'shared care' placement for a disabled child: "we fostered
her parents as well". The parents were teenagers who were
not confident in their parenting abilitythe child is now
living with them full-time, and is in mainstream education which
at one time seemed impossible.
- One carer estimated that 90% of placements are
made without a Foster Care Agreement in place.
- Foster carers feel that they
put in a tremendous amount of effort to support young people,
often compensating for a lack of other sorts of support, but this
work can all be undermined when support is abruptly withdrawn
upon leaving care, and for the young person things often 'fall
apart' at this stage.
- At the moment the system for leaving care does
not adequately recognise that maturity, readiness for independence
and chronological age do not always go together; there needs to
be greater ability to use discretion in assessing when a young
person is ready to leave.
- Discussions about leaving care start too early.
With exams and other worries, 16 is not a good age to be moved
to a leaving care team (which some children come to think of as
a 'don't care' team), and in some cases they may be introduced
to these teams when as young as fourteen.
- Whenever a young person becomes an adult, a foster
carer can get cut out of discussions about pathway planning and
what happens next, even when there has previously been a good
relationship with the social worker.
- When children stay on with a foster carer past
the age of 18, it is often an arrangement arrived at in spite
of the system rather than with its support. One carer who provides
supported lodging for a care leaver now receives much less income
in rent than the allowance he received as the young man's foster
- Formerly looked-after children who go away to
university, or join the armed forces, do not have homes to return
to when they are on leave or out of term time. When a placement
ends, there is huge pressure because of the shortage of carers
to take in more children, so the possibility of offering holiday
accommodation for students is reduced.
Delegation of responsibilities to foster carers
- Foster carers should be able
to embody the principle in the Children Act that each of us act
towards the child in care as a reasonable parent would: "This
isn't family life, it's parenting by committee, and the young
people resent us for it [
] If we're going to be foster families,
we have to be able to function as families."
- Carers said that they needed to be trusted more
to exercise their professional judgement. They undergo a stringent
approval and scrutiny process, but responsibility commensurate
with that is then not delegatedfor example, the ability
to make day-to-day decisions about haircuts, pocket money, or
school trips. Guidance on these issues is needed, but local authorities
have a great propensity to misinterpret guidance unhelpfully.
- The people who do make decisions and give authorisations
are just signing a form, sometimes without even having met the
childall they are interested in is police checks and insurance.
If the manager with responsibility is on leave, a child can end
up missing out on a school trip, for instance. There is a need
for a common-sense approach to issues such as police checksfor
example, when a former looked-after child who is aged over 16
comes back to stay for a night with their former carer, do they
need to be checked? Many local authorities also insist upon a
separate bedroom for each child, even when foster parents' own
children are sharing rooms.
Involvement of birth families
- While the foster carers were
supportive of the idea of birth parents, where possible, remaining
an important part of a child's life, they raised some serious
concerns with contact in certain circumstances. There was a feeling
that the type of problems that now lead to children being taken
into care mean there are greater risks to children from contact.
There may be significant safety problems when allowing parents
to come into a foster carer's own home, for example. Several carers
agreed that visits by birth parents could confuse the child about
their foster home being a place of unambiguous safety. However,
there was recognition that birth families need to be considered
and treated on an individual basis.
Informal meeting with young people in or formerly
Thursday 9 October 2008
These notes are a general account of the opinions
expressed by the group of young people who met Members informally
in October, under the auspices of A National Voice.
The importance of feeling normal
'Feeling different' from other young people is a
huge issue for young people in care. Young people said:
- "Being prioritised for
support in school made me stick out like a sore thumb."
- "If I want to stay with my sister, or a
friend, social services have to do lots of checks first, which
stops me feeling normal."
- "It's not a normal life [
] you have
to act ten years older than you actually are."
- "The highlight of my time in care was my
school prom, because that was when I felt just like everybody
Getting the services and support you need
Young people feel strongly about the lack of consistency
in grants, allowances and so on between different local authorities.
However, one young person said she felt money had "been thrown
at me", to stop her complaining about her circumstances in
other ways. One young woman who has left care said that becoming
pregnant has triggered a great deal of support from social services
that was very difficult to get previously; for example, she had
been waiting for permanent accommodation for five years, and had
only secured it since becoming pregnant.
- "Why can't all boroughs
be the same?"
The young people felt that placement decisions are
made on the basis of where there is a free bed, not where or who
will be a good match for the child. They reported not being consulted
about whether they felt a placement was right for them (or even
whether they would prefer residential or foster care), and pointed
out that if you are unhappy in a placement you are more likely
to spend time out and about and perhaps get into trouble. One
young woman reported having had four different foster placements
in nine months; her sister had been in 18 different placements
in the same time. Another said that she had been through seven
placements within a month.
Children in care feel that they often have no explanation
and no preparation for things that happen to them, such as sudden,
unplanned placement moves; one young woman said that she had been
left outside the social services office on a Friday night, and
a boy said he had come back from school one day to find his bags
packed and a cab waiting for him outside.
A disabled young man said that he would have liked
to have been able to have a placement closer to home, and he does
not get to see his parents as much as he would like. Young people
in some places are asked to give reports on the placements they've
had, but not in others.
- "Our sister is 13, and
she is placed in a residential home with three 17-year-old boys."
- "Sometimes you don't complain because it
doesn't seem worth it. And making the effort to fit into a family
doesn't seem worth it either, when you know you could be moved
- "I got so used to change when I was in care,
that now I constantly change around the furniture in my flat."
The young people told Members that they all needed
love, support and stability, but that they did not get these things
in a lot of foster homes. Although some of the group spoke highly
of some of the foster carers they had lived with, several had
stories about ways in which they had been excluded from normal
family life by their foster carersbeing made to eat in
a separate room on big occasions like Christmas, for example.
When asked what sort of environment they would have liked to have
been in in care, several of the young people said "a proper
family setting". Although it could cause problems if carers
tried too hard to replace your birth parents, young people highlighted
everyday things like all watching TV together and eating togetherand
being allowed to use the same crockery as the foster carer's own
The young people felt very strongly that a lot of
foster carers do it for the money, and pointed out that many agencies'
recruitment strategies are based on advertising the financial
reward available. Although the young people were aware that foster
carers go through a rigorous approvals process, they said that
carers are not always assessed against criteria that young people
themselves think are the most important; for example, the process
does not reveal enough about their personalities.
Young people complained that there is not as much
support for kinship care as for other foster care. They were adamant
that kinship care should not be seen as a cheap option"just
because you are family does not mean you can automatically cope".
- "My foster carer turned
me out of the house at 8 o'clock every morning, even on days when
I didn't have school, because she wouldn't let me stay in the
house while she was at work."
The young people complained that social workers'
caseloads are too high, and that this meant they could not give
them enough time or attention. One person talked about how social
workers often missed appointments without warning or explanation,
and left young people waiting for a long time.
- "Social workers always
seem to be too busy to talk to you, or on holiday, and they don't
get back to you quickly."
- "Social workers are supposed to visit your
regularly, but some of them will only be in touch when things
are going wrong. If you act up, you get a lot of support and even
treats. That is part of the reason why children in care may get
into troubleit is the only sure way to get attention from
adults. No-one ever phones up to say 'well done' when things are
- "The workers who spend time with you get
to know you better."
Siblings and other important relationships
The young people said that a lot of children in care
want to see more of their siblings. They said that keeping in
touch with foster siblings can be important too, but that social
workers often do not understand why they want to keep in touch
with children who are not their birth family, or with workers
in residential homes.
- "We've been stopped from
visiting our 13 year-old sister at the residential home where
she is placed, because they say it would affect her behavioural
problemsbut social workers should work around that rather
than giving up on us seeing our sister."
- "We've got a little brother who has been
adopted; we haven't seen him since the court order was made, even
though it took 18 months for him to start living with his adoptive
family, and now we won't have any contact with him until he is
- "I was nothing to the children's home I
lived in, after I left. I went to visit my friend there and they
told me to get off the property unless I had previously-arranged
Getting a good education is a high priority for young
people in care, but they can be frustrated by their circumstances;
missing out on months of schooling because of delays getting a
school place after a change of placement, for example. Some of
the young people described an alternative education scheme, where
young people went to a youth centre and played pool or table tennis
most of the day, with only one hour's education, which was repeated
daily and was exactly the same for everyoneso they reasoned
that there was little point in turning up, even if you were actually
interested in getting an education.
One young woman said her authority had done everything
they could to keep her at the same school when her placements
changed, even though at times this meant a two-hour each-way commute
Two of the young people had been involved in an Aimhigher
project in Liverpool, which took them to Liverpool University
for mentoring once a week. There were financial rewards for participating
in the programme, including for every GCSE grade achieved above
what was expected. At the end of the project, there was a trip
to New York. The Looked-after Children Education team organised
their participation, and the young women said that it had helped
them to believe that they weren't going to fail; they went on
to achieve good GCSE grades. A National Voice worker said this
was one of the best education initiatives she had seen, but it
was a pilot and the loss of funding meant that the reward elements
of the scheme have been lost.
- "In Year 10 I went to
four different high schools."
- "It is almost assumed in a residential unit
that no-one will want to go to school."
- "When you do go to school you can get treated
very differently, and it makes you not want to go back."
Young people who had left care described being told
exactly how to spend their leaving care grants by social workers;
and being told to accept dirty and smelly second-hand furniture
because it was a bargain and they could put a throw over it.
But this works differently in different places - some young people
said they got all new, if cheap, furniture, and also got to keep
the change from their grant.
- "At 18, you're basically
- "The day my college course finishes, I've
got to move house."
- "I have a leaving care worker who has been
really good, really cares, and gets things done."
Getting their views heard
A National Voice believe that the Pledge and Children
in Care Council should be required in legislation, not just in
guidance. They reason that what young people will tell you about
a service is often completely different from what the professionals
say, and so it is important that the Councils 'have teeth' and
are properly accountable. A National Voice also argues that the
role of Independent Reviewing Officer cannot truly be regarded
as an independent voice for children in care.
631 Maxine Wrigley (Chief Executive, A National Voice)
told the group that it is a myth that police checks need to be
done before a child in care stays elsewhere overnight-actually
carers have discretion to decide, but many social workers are
apparently unaware of this, and prefer to be cautious. Consequently,
overnight stays are still a very big issue for children in care;
they feel it is something that adds to the stigma surrounding
care, and can even induce young people to run away from their