“The best thing is having a dad in my life that is there for me, but also having a mum love you unconditionally when you aren’t even her daughter.”
These words are from a young person about her foster carers. The love and support offered by carers can be transformational to the health, wellbeing and future prospects of the children in their care. Ensuring a child’s best interests are supported during their placement is one of the highest priorities for councils. Foster carers must undergo a comprehensive application and assessment process and they receive regular training to enable them to meet the needs of the children they care for.
There is currently a shortage of foster carers yet more children are coming into care, so our need for carers from all walks of life continues to grow. The Fostering Network estimates that more than 5,900 new foster families are needed in England to meet current demand. Councils across the country are investing in local and regional recruitment campaigns to encourage more people with the right skills to come forward so that all children in need of a foster placement get the support they need. A wider pool of foster carers, who can meet the diverse needs of children and young people coming into care, will lead to greater placement choice, and as a result greater placement stability. This can only be a good thing.
A range of factors are considered as part of the complex matching process, including a child’s religious and cultural needs. However, this is not an exact science and the most important thing is that a child’s placement provides them with a stable, loving home and that their interests and needs are promoted first and foremost. Despite recent reports in the media there is currently no evidence that ethnic or cultural matching makes any difference to the success of a foster placement. Many children and young people across the country are cared for by loving, dedicated foster carers from a different ethnic or cultural background to them, including many unaccompanied asylum-seeking children living in the UK.
It would be disheartening if these reports dissuaded potential foster carers from coming forward to care for vulnerable children. We also hope existing foster carers do not feel unappreciated; we recognise and value the crucial and often challenging role they fulfil. The Department for Education’s National Fostering Stocktake, which is currently underway, will help to highlight the fantastic contribution foster carers make to individual children’s lives and to wider society. We look forward to its report at the end of the year.
Alison Michalska, corporate director of children and adults, Nottingham City Council and 2017-18 president, Association of Directors of Children’s Services