The Fostering Stocktake: Core Assets’ response, Mark Costello, CEO
12th Feb, 2018
The Fostering Stocktake has been somewhat hanging over the sector for a few months now. There have been some wild and radical suggestions from some parties about what the report should recommend and some suggestions that the fostering sector is in turmoil and needs the stocktake to completely fix it. Having met the reviewers a number of times during the process and also with FCA agreeing to assist by sharing financial data with the reviewers, I was confident that the report would be sensibly and helpfully written. When it was released yesterday I was very pleased to see that it is, as expected, an extremely positive and coherent piece of work, containing huge praise for foster carers and the independent sector, along with some really positive and helpful recommendations.
The overarching message of the report is highlighted in a couple of early sentences; “The care system has an undeservedly poor reputation, and fostering is a success story that rarely gets the credit it deserves” and “children in care are remarkably positive about fostering and their sense of wellbeing is surprisingly high”. I absolutely agree with this sentiment – the fostering system achieves amazing outcomes for children, thanks to the hard work and dedication of foster carers and committed staff who work in fostering services. I see evidence of this every single day in Core Assets.
Another key element of the report that I noted is when Sir Martin Narey says: “Foster carers make a remarkable contribution to the lives of children often damaged by neglect and that contribution needs to be recognised… But fostering can be made even more effective, and could make an even greater contribution to the welfare to some of the country’s most disadvantaged children… Foster carers must be allowed much greater authority in making decisions about the children in their care and they need to be liberated to offer the physical affection which is a vital and necessary part of most children’s healthy upbringing”. Again, this is something that I see examples of on an almost daily basis and is a real theme within our carer surveys; carers are so frustrated by the lack of clarity around delegated authority and also physical affection. We must trust foster carers far more to make the right decisions and have appropriate boundaries; foster carers know the children in their care better than social workers do and should be allowed to make decisions.
I was surprised by the report’s suggestion of abolishing the role of Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO). While I fully agree that the role isn’t being given the power it requires to make a difference, giving up on the role seems a step too far. My view would be that the role could be strengthened, could be made truly independent from the local authority and therefore given real ‘teeth’ to challenge local authorities and change the lives of children.
There are some strong words of praise aimed towards IFAs, which were very pleasing to read, and the report has gone a long way to dispel the myth that IFA fostering placements are more expensive than local authority fostering placements. Despite strong words from local authorities and ADCS that vehemently made the case that IFAs are too expensive, Sir Martin Narey states, “The reality is that once local authority overheads are taken into account, along with the indisputable reality that IFAs care for more challenging children and therefore have to invest more in both the pay and support of their carers, the gap is very small, and is smaller than the varying cost of in-house provision across local authorities.” Linked to this, I was also very pleased to read the recommendations about local authorities working closer with the independent sector in partnerships, as Peterborough has, “They should not be discouraged from making such partnerships with IFAs from the private sector whose quality of care, and an ability to find homes for the most challenging children, is not in dispute.” Core Assets has long held the belief that we could help local authorities solve their sufficiency challenges and save them money by forming such partnerships.
There was a lot more content in the report and many more recommendations which I feel were well thought out, affordable and realistic. While not being quite the transformational review that some hoped for, I feel the recommendations will, if well implemented, make a positive impact on fostering for many years to come.
I encourage you to read and review the report, to keep ourselves involved with developing new ideas and practice across fostering. I have been invited to a roundtable event with the Department for Education to discuss the recommendations and am looking forward to working together to develop the fostering sector for the future.