Opinion

Fostering Network: Regardless of creed, home is at the heart of foster care

Whatever the truth of last week's media storm, Fostering Network's Chief Executive says the real story of foster care is how it's enabling thousands of young people to flourish

Foster carers

The UK’s fostering system was in the eye of a media storm last week after The Times claimed a young Christian girl had been placed with a Muslim family. Tower Hamlets council hit back at the “inaccuracies” of the story, saying that the girl had in fact been temporarily placed with an English-speaking family of mixed race. Fostering Network chief executive Kevin Williams says religion, culture, age or background are no barrier to fostering…

The fantastic job that tens of thousands of foster carers do looking after the 64,000 children and young people who are fostered every day rarely gets the acknowledgement it deserves.

Unfortunately, fostering did hit the headlines last week but not for the reasons it ought to. Worse still, these headlines are in danger of distracting from the real fostering story – that young people across the UK are flourishing because of the love and stability they receive from foster carers, and that thousands more foster carers are needed every year.

The story has also highlighted a significant lack of understanding of what fostering is and how it works, in particular how it is decided which foster family a child will live with.

When a child comes into care needing a foster family, their needs will be assessed and prioritised

When a child comes into care needing a foster family, their needs will be assessed and prioritised – these needs include health, education, proximity to family and school, hobbies and interests, cultural background, religion, language and so on. This is a complex process and, like in the rest of fostering, is one in which learning and improvement is being sought all the time.

There is no set hierarchy of needs that must be met – instead there is a hierarchy for each individual child, which should be decided on a case-by-case basis by social workers who know the child. For example, a child with a particular disability may benefit from a foster carer who has specialist knowledge in that disability, even if that foster carer is from a different religion.

The Times' foster care story
The Times' controversial foster care story

The story last week focused on the issue of religion. Fostering services and foster carers must pay full attention to the child’s faith, culture, language and so on but with the right training and support this can happen in a fostering household where the faith or culture of the foster carers is different to the child they are caring for. Indeed, this is happening in thousands of fostering households every day.

There are many thousands of carers across the UK, often with good support from their fostering service, who have consistently gone the extra mile to support young people to stay connected with the faith and culture they were born into – even if they knew very little about that faith or culture before that young person came to live with them.

The recruitment of foster carers

Of course, having a wider pool of foster carers, with a wide range of skills, experiences, backgrounds, religions and languages, allows children to be placed with the foster carers who can best meet their particular needs.

With some foster carers retiring, and others looking after children in long-term placements, the pool can become smaller and therefore less diverse. This is why constant recruitment of foster carers, as well as the ongoing training of existing foster carers, is so necessary. So, what do foster carers do?

Foster carers are childcare experts and work as part of the professional team around the child. They are trained before being approved and have the opportunity to continue training while they foster.

Foster carers are childcare experts and work as part of the professional team around the child

Many foster carers specialise in certain areas that could include caring for children with specific needs and disabilities. They can also decide whether to care for children in an emergency situation, on a short-term basis or for a longer period of time as a more permanent placement for the child.

Children come into care for many different reasons. The dedication of thousands of foster carers across the country ensures that these children receive the love and support that they need for however long they need it when they can’t live with their birth family.

There are roughly 55,000 fostering households across the UK but over 7,000 more are needed this year alone. Choosing to foster is a big decision that will change the foster carer’s life and, most importantly, the lives of the children they care for.

Most fostering myths that people may have heard are probably false. People can foster if they are single or married, gay or straight, in their 20s or their 70s. As long as they have a spare room, are over 21 and have the skills and experience to meet the needs of children who may have experienced a traumatic start to life, then there’s very little stopping most people becoming a foster carer.

Don’t be misled by last week’s story. Every day there are thousands of children living with foster carers who are doing something quite incredible – wouldn’t it be great to see that on the front pages.

Kevin Williams is the Chief Executive of The Fostering Network | @fosteringnet

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