As part of the Government’s strategy for protecting and providing for children in care, an extensive programme of work has been carried out looking at how fostering services can be improved.
As part of this, the Government has been speaking to sector organisations and around 300 individuals around the country, including foster carers, social workers, independent reviewing officers, health and education specialists and other front-line practitioners, managers at all levels and lead members, to find out what they think is going well and not so well.
This consultation is ongoing, but on the basis of what has been found out so far, the Government has made a number of proposals that are set out below:
Given the shortage of foster carers, the older profile of foster carers (a significant number of whom are reaching retirement) and the increasing numbers and needs of children entering the care system, the Government is calling on employers to follow the lead of businesses like Tesco and O2 and support their staff to foster; and on fostering services to think more creatively about how they can recruit a wider range of foster carers, including more working people (where they are able to meet children’s needs).
The Department for Education is becoming the first Government Department to introduce a foster-family-friendly HR policy for its staff, and is challenging other public sector organisations to do the same.
To help employers who want to support their staff to foster, a guide with useful ideas on how to do this and examples of businesses that are leading the way have been published on the Department’s website.
The Government will consult on new rules preventing fostering services enforcing a “blanket ban” that requires at least one foster carer in a household to not engage in other paid work, unless there are robust reasons for this (e.g. services which only provide foster carers for very young children, children with very challenging needs, or disabled children who need ‘stay-at-home’ care).
The Government will consult on changes to the fostering services statutory guidance to strengthen the requirement for fostering services to be responsive to the circumstances of foster carers in employment – for example, by holding meetings about the child’s care in the evening or at weekends instead of only during working hours.
The Government is aiming to support local authorities to make greater use of innovative models of family support, such as respite foster care and voluntary support for vulnerable families; and will be encouraging fostering services to reach out to a wider pool of people to carry out these roles, who might not currently be in a position to foster full time.
Concerns have been raised that the stages of the assessment process, including where it starts, are not clear. The Government is working with the sector on how the statutory framework might be amended to make the process clearer, more proportionate and timely.
The Government wants to remove unnecessary bureaucratic barriers to foster carers responding to children’s needs. We will therefore be consulting on proposals to remove rigid requirements around the time taken to change foster carers’ terms of approval, which can currently prevent foster carers from taking placements which they are happy and able to accept and which are in the best interests of the children.
The statutory framework for fostering services introduced in April 2011 makes clear that authority for day-to-day decision-making about foster children should be delegated to the foster carer wherever possible; but we know this is still not happening in some areas. To support change, a clear and concise summary of the Government’s expectations around delegation to foster carers has been published on the DfE website, alongside a document bringing together all the statutory requirements in this area.
All parties need to be clear what authority is delegated to the foster carer. The Government will therefore be consulting on changes to the statutory framework that would require the placement plan to set out whether authority is delegated to the foster carer in key areas which will be specified.
The Government is calling on senior officials and local politicians to support better delegation to foster carers, by sending out positive messages and creating a culture where foster carers (and the social workers working with them) know they will be supported to take decisions, even if things go wrong. The Government will be consulting on introducing a requirement for local authorities to have a policy on delegation of authority to foster carers.
Many foster carers have said that they want better opportunities to develop their skills. The Government will therefore be working with the sector to develop a national training and development framework for foster carers.
The Government wants all social workers working with foster families to have training, including on the statutory framework; the key role of the foster carer within the child’s core team; and the importance of delegating to foster carers. The Government will therefore be working with the sector to develop training modules for social workers.
The Government is working with the sector on a range of other matters, such as how foster carers who have made a long term commitment to their foster child might be better empowered, and social work involvement in these families be made more flexible and proportionate; how allegations against foster families might be better handled; and how local authorities’ might improve the way they commission fostering services. So look out for further announcements later in the year.