Most people are disappointed with the Care Review. For some, it's the amount of money the government has committed to the recommendations. For others, it's the need for more engagement with lived experience campaigners and failure to listen and understand their needs. For me, it's all of this and more, but most of all, it's an overwhelming frustration at the lack of understanding of the connection between foster care retention and many of the issues the review was supposed to address.
Foster carers around the country are incredibly frustrated by the review recommendations. The very notion that pilot projects in the North East will help resolve a nationwide crisis and the idea that research into retention is necessary beggars belief. The root causes of retention issues are well known via previous research and APPGs. Foster carer exploitation and mistreatment have become regular headlines in mainstream news over the past few years. I am also deeply concerned by the Automatic Delegated Authority recommendation, which is sold to foster carers as a golden gift.
The Care Review has been a huge missed opportunity for fostering in England. Many of us tried to engage via official channels, but our voices were ignored. Those allowed to speak were briefed and guided on what they should say. As a result, recommendations show little understanding- ing of the role of a foster carer and will not improve sufficiency. Here are my thoughts on the fostering-related recommendations.
Automatic delegated authority
While this may seem like a win for foster carers, it comes at the expense of parental rights.
It shows a lack of respect for parents and no understanding of the need for foster carers to build and maintain a high-quality working relationship with the families of children in their care. Arbitrarily, taking away choices and decisions from parents can only be detrimental to those relationships, which in turn is harmful to the children who benefit from open and positive partnerships. I have the utmost respect for birth parents, and the thought of me, as a foster carer, being allowed to take over their decisions and take away their parenting role is cruel and unconscionable. It must be devastating and disempowering to go through the trauma of having a child born into care, and to have a stranger quickly changing their hairstyle and other parenting decisions just compounds the pain.
The sweeping recommendation fails to mention that many children are not on a total care order, and there is no stated differentiation in the recommendations for children on an interim care order, Section 20 or EPO.
Given the current generous regulations around delegated authority contained within National Minimum Standards and the legal restrictions which prevent widespread automatic delegated authority, this appears to be, at best, an empty offering pretending to show that foster carer's voices were heard. At worst, if improperly applied, it will further harm retention due to increased allegations and concerns.
Arbitrarily applied automatic delegated authority will increase allegations and standards of care concerns when things inevitably go wrong. The reality of increased delegated authority is increased accountability and responsibility. Taking away the decision-making role of social workers, birth parents, and IROS leaves all responsibility on the foster carer's shoulders.
In my work supporting foster families around the country, many of the allegations and concerns we see involve detailed scrutiny of decisions made by foster carers. The rule of thumb is whatever decision the foster carer makes. It was the wrong one. I recently sat and listened to a manager berate a foster carer for grabbing a child's arm, knowing full well that the child was trying to climb out of a moving vehicle on a busy roundabout as they didn't want to go to school. I politely pointed out that, had the foster carer failed to save them, we would instead have a failure to safeguard meeting. This scenario often crops up around safeguarding from CSE/County Lines versus deprivation of liberty where, again, whichever choice the foster carer made was the wrong one. We are often able to protect our members from the onslaught by producing written evidence of care plans, risk assessments, and guidance from social workers in email exchanges and reviews. Giving increased decision-making responsibilities to foster carers increases accountability and the risk of deregistra- tion. It is a curse, not a gift.
I knew that regional or national commissioning was coming since May 2020 when Vicky Ford MP told me about a trial in the South of England. It comes from Martin Narey's Fostering Stocktake, where he stated there was no national shortage of foster carers and called for a national register.
It takes some serious mental gymnastics to tie up a review claiming to want to keep more children close to their schools, friends and family and everything they know and love, with a large emphasis on LOVE, and then demand regional commissioning. Regional is somewhere other than local. Regional can be several hours away from school, home, friends and family, especially in traffic.
If foster carers are spending the day travelling between school and family centres and then home at some point, they're not available to take in other children (unless they get a teleporter). It will not improve sufficiency; it will make it worse, as well as cause distress to children, their families and friends, as it will move children further away from all they know and love. It is also an increased commitment and financial burden on foster carers. Foster carers will simply become glorified taxi drivers, spending many hours driving to schools and family contacts across the region. This, in turn, will significantly REDUCE sufficiency as we cannot be in more than one place at a time. It will work in very limited circumstances if the "glorified taxi driver" can take a child from a few miles away. Other than that, foster carers will be pressured into travelling long distances without ad-equate remuneration, when fuel costs are astronomical or recognition of the additional stress.
The Mockingbird Model has been promised £82 million over 5 years.
This funding does nothing to address the urgent need for better rights and protection. The £82 million over 5 years has left me reeling. This money is desperately needed for more ur- gent issues.
My own experience of working with foster carers all over the country mirrors the findings of this research, which states that the model only works with the right hub carer, and they are few and far between,
The Mockingbird model has been marketed in the review as a silver bullet when, in reality, it's hit and miss when egos and personalities get in the way, leading to squabbling and allegations which cause further harm in fostering. Many experienced foster carers, like myself, have no need or desire to be forced into an artificial social circle. We have naturally formed support and friendships and are free to make our arrangements without being judged for non-participation like some clique of tiger mums at the school gates. It, therefore, has limited scope.
I would ask everyone reading this to think about how they would feel about being forced into a social group, not of their choosing and expected to attend events.
Yes, it works well for some, with that rare miracle, the suitable hub carer, and allows those participating to go on holiday without their foster children, but it's not right for many of us.
This is a massive betrayal. It will not fix the retention crisis, and it takes much-needed funds away from real change.
It was an additional blow to see funding allocated to "researching retention" so we have started a campaign with foster carers writing to their MPs all over the country to object with the following letter: The bottom line is this: foster carer retention is at the very heart of the crisis in children's social care, the lack of available homes within local communities, the astronomical cost of out of area provision, CSE and County Lines issues for children moved far from home. Yet, it was neither investigated nor addressed by the Care Review and we were all actively excluded, and our attempts to engage were ignored. As a result, the flimsy recommendations are based on a very narrow view from organisations with no real insight into the day-to-day reality of foster carers.
Why would anyone choose to kick such an important, central issue into the long grass and waste tax payer's funds researching issues for which the answers are already well known?