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The Evidence for National Foster Carer’s Qualifications

The Evidence for National Foster Carer’s Qualifications
The Evidence for National Foster Carer’s Qualifications

Preface by Sarah Anderson, NFCQ Co-founder

There are issues that permeate repeatedly through care reviews, reports, surveys and research, that foster carers need improved education and training, they need more access to peer support, they want to be more valued, professionally recognised and to be seen as an equal member of the team around the child.

The statistics also show us repeatedly how we are failing children in care and care leavers, many experiencing multiple placement breakdowns and sadly finding themselves bounced around a system with foster carers unable and ill-equipped to meet their needs.

Currently there is no way of measuring the educational levels of foster carers and no meaningful data on how skilled they are, there is no bench mark, no standardisation, hence no idea which carers can meet which children’s needs and whether we have enough carers who can actually meet the needs of all the children in care, the NFCQ has the potential to solve this and produce this data.

The NFCQ education pathway for foster carers will give us an opportunity to skill up a whole sector, from new foster carers up, giving them a sense of purpose, respect and recognition they’ve not had before and giving councils, agencies and government a recognised education standard, and a unique way to support carers to learn, develop and create familial networks of support in the wider context.

Through the NFCQ we can promote and deliver stable loving family homes, whilst significantly raising outcomes our children and young people. If we can do this through improved standards of foster carer education, you have to ask the question; why would we not?

Introduction

Here we want to focus on evidence from Care Reviews, Fostering Reviews, Research and surveys including feedback from frontline foster carers.

Foster carers play a crucial role in providing stable, nurturing environments for children in care. Their skills, education and qualifications ensure they are able to meet the needs of the children in their care.

Currently, there is no standardised foster carer qualification, new and existing foster carers are often unprepared for their role and this affects children and young people, placement stability and outcomes.

The NFCQ has been developed in response to this and in this paper we examine Care Reviews, reports, surveys, and research to examine the need for national standardised foster carers’ qualifications.

“We recommend that the Government works with experts and organisations in the sector to develop high-quality training resources for foster carers, and make them available nationwide.”
[Education Select Committee enquiry into fostering (2017)]
“The Fostering Regulations 2011 say that the fostering service provider must provide foster carers with training ‘as appears necessary in the interests of the children placed with them’ and they should be ‘familiar with policies’ but no guidance to the quality or quantity of that education.”
[Looked After Children - The silent crisis, The Social Market Foundation 2018]

CONTENTS

1. INDEPENDENT REVIEW INTO CHILDREN’S CARE 2022, JOSH MACALISTER, FINAL REPORT

Foster carers and their families are some of the most remarkable people in society.

There will be almost 70,000 children who will wake up tomorrow morning living with a foster carer or in a children’s home [Department for Education, 2021]. Many of these children have an experience of care that is transformational, often because of the loving bonds with carers.

However for far too many, sadly, their experience of care will be poor. Throughout the review we have heard from children, too many, who are matched with homes that cannot provide them with what they need, and too frequently this results in yet another adult failing to stick with them. It breaks their relationships with friends and teachers and makes maintaining family contact harder.

For foster carers and prospective foster carers, fostering needs to be celebrated, it needs to be trusting in their ability to meet children’s needs, to give them a voice in the system and to provide a strong network of support and quality training.

There are not enough carers with the right skills, in the right place, to ensure children can be provided with care close to their extended family and community. This piles further pressure on the foster carers who are able to look after children and also means that some children are in residential children’s homes when they could and should be in a family fostering environment.

Recent research published by Ofsted highlighted that one-third of children living in children’s residential homes had originally had foster care on their care plan but were instead placed in a children’s home [Ofsted, 2022b].

The recommendations made in this section set out a ‘new deal’ for foster care, which:

Making this ‘new deal’ work will require a different mindset about fostering.

It will require existing experienced foster carers to raise their hand and provide support and guidance to newly approved foster carers.

A new national fostering recruitment programme…It should also target carers with the skills to offer care to older teenagers, babies and their parents, unaccompanied children, siblings and children on remand.

The Department for Education should also appeal to individuals and families who would not ordinarily consider fostering.

Alongside trust, foster carers deserve high levels of support. Becoming a foster carer is often extremely challenging, particularly when starting out, and it is important that carers are not only able to attend training courses and events, but have access to more experienced carers, or carers that have specific skills.

Build peer family-like networks around children and foster carers.

Provide a network of resilience for sleepovers and holidays (what is often called respite) amongst this small community of adults and children.

Support for the maintenance of birth family relationships.

The care experience should help to heal trauma, realise identity and achieve potential.

Recommendation: All foster carers should be able to access high-quality training and peer support.

While we may lack official statistics on the life expectancy of care-experienced people, we can reflect on some very sobering statistics:

"Adults who spent time in care between 1971-2001 were 70% more likely to die prematurely than those who did not, and also more likely to experience an unnatural death"
(unnatural death is defined as self-harm, accidents, and mental and behavioural causes) [Murray et al., 2020].
"Care leavers 18-21 make up 1% of the population, but account for around 7% of the deaths at this age"
[Greenwood, 2017]
"Care leavers who were in residential care have the highest prevalence of limiting long-term illnesses (around 32% on average), followed by adults who lived in foster care (around 16% on average) and adults who lived in kinship care (12% on average). This is significantly higher than the average prevalence of limiting long-term illnesses amongst individuals who have not been in care (7%)"
[Sacker et al., 2021b]
"Recent studies estimate that one in eight children and young people in England are likely to be impacted by mental ill health, with a much higher prevalence of mental ill health in the population of children in care."
[Wijedasa et al., 2022]

Personal advisors have raised concerns about the mental health of 46% of the care leavers they supported. A reasonable hypothesis is that these stark and unacceptable outcomes are due to a combination of trauma or complex trauma experienced in childhood.

2. Foster Care in England, A Review for the Department for Education by Sir Martin Narey and Mark Owers, February 2018

Findings

Carers need, at all times, to be treated professionally. But they are frustrated when they are excluded from discussions leading to important decisions about their foster child or when they are thwarted from using sensible discretion when making day-to-day decisions about the child or children in their care.

Permanence

Fostering can be hugely successful. When fostering lasts in the long term, outcomes for children fostered are similar to those adopted, demonstrating, in the words of Hill, that fostering, like adoption, can “represent the most radical, comprehensive and potent therapeutic input in the lives of abused and neglected children.”

Peer Support to Foster Carers

Professional support to carers is important. But so is peer support. Carers often rated it as more important than professional support, particularly at times of uncertainty and when wanting immediate advice. As one carer told us: “Other carers… they understand my issues and my needs, they are living with the same things I am, they understand as they live with a child 24/7.”

Foster carers support each other by sharing their knowledge and experience; giving emotional and practical support; providing respite; and by socialising together.

All fostering services should consider introducing this type of structured peer support for carers. Not all will be able to provide something as sophisticated (and the costs are not insignificant, estimated to be more than £30,000 a year) but arrangements of this nature are likely to promote carer retention and placement stability.

Recruitment

Despite the Ofsted data, our understanding of the availability and skills of foster carers is not good enough. We can’t expect to recruit the right number and type of foster carers and in the right parts of the country, when we know so little about the capabilities and location of current carers.

As the Fostering Network told us; Fostering services are able to recruit foster carers without regard to whether the skills they bring and homes they offer are actually needed for children, or to whether other carers already exist who could provide the necessary placements.

NFCQ will improve the understanding of the available skills of foster carers through delivering consistent recognised standard qualifications.

Matching

Matching is overwhelmingly supply-led and not needs-led. Research has suggested that in as many as half of all placements, the social worker has no choice at all when choosing carers.

We believe that if some of the frustrations identified in Chapter 2 of this report were addressed, particularly around….the dependability of peer support, then retention might improve.

We know from research, including that from Dozier and Lindheim (2006) that a significant determinant of placement stability is the quality of relationships between foster carers and children. Placement stability promotes positive outcomes for children and young people in care. Stein (2005, quoted in Baginsky 2017) found that looked after children who experience stable placements are more likely to be resilient; securely attached; succeed educationally; be in work; settle in and manage their accommodation after leaving care; feel better about themselves; and achieve satisfactory social integration in adulthood.

Conversely, placement instability contributes to a range of poor outcomes, including increased risk of offending behaviour (Schofield et al, 2014 & Rock et al, 2013) and poorer educational outcomes (Sebba et al, 2015). And this occurs far too often.

A number of children and young people told the Children’s Commissioner and told us that the worst thing about being in foster care was the uncertainty of knowing how long a placement would last. One young person said: “Being in care, we naturally lack a sense of belonging, and this was compounded by this uncertainty over the stability of the placement… I always believed I could be forced to move at short notice”.

Children and young people told us that they thought it took too long to get them to the right placement where positive relationships could flourish and where stability would follow. Too many children experienced numerous moves.

Fostering is better for children the more stable it is and the longer it lasts. The permanence and the stability it can bring to children’s lives trumps everything else in its importance. The pursuit of permanence should be moved to the centre ground of policy at the Department for Education.

3. Education Select Committee enquiry into fostering (2017)

Training

Concerns have also been raised over the standard, amount and content of training currently on offer to foster carers.

Carers told us that they only received a few days’ worth of training, which did not cover many of the issues they would face in their time fostering: “What you are trained for is a very nice world, and it is not the same”.

Dr John Simmonds from CoramBAAF said that the needs of carers exceed the “generic training” on offer depending on the kinds of children they are placed with, while Tay Jiva from Penny Appeal, an organisation which works with the Muslim community, stated that she is not aware of any training which sufficiently prepares carers for looking after Muslim children.

Dr Ruth Allen, CEO of the British Association of Social Workers, added that “foster carers are often invisible in local inter-disciplinary training plans”.

When questioned on training for foster carers, Katy Willison from the Department for Education explained that, beyond the training support and development standards which foster carers are obliged to undertake within their first 12 months of caring, the Government has made the decision to leave it to local authorities to provide further training or development in their areas.

However, it was pointed out to us that current funding and resource pressures on local authorities have meant that many councils are only putting on the training they can afford to run.

A report by The Fostering Network found that over half of carers surveyed felt that training was being affected by cuts, with a noticeable reduction in the availability and quality of training on offer.

Many foster carers are therefore having to source and fund training themselves. As a result, many have suggested the creation of a nationally accredited and standardised training and development programme.

Witnesses who appeared before the Committee were largely in favour. Dave Hill, then President of the ADCS, said that “it sounds like a jolly good idea”, while Councillor Richard Watts, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, agreed that “it has a lot going for it”, so long as it is done with a light touch so that it does not become a strangulating, over-bureaucratic thing that is driven from the top”

However, we were also told that as all children’s and carers’ needs are different a ‘one size fits all’ approach may not be appropriate, that many carers do not want additional classroom time or lectures as it is difficult to find time and because many things are best learned through practice or experience, and that what is often of most benefit is the ability to meet and discuss with fellow carers with the same experiences.

We appreciate that initial training cannot be comprehensive and that many things can only be learned on the job.

However, there is a great need for more ongoing training and development for foster carers. We recommend that the Government works with experts and organisations in the sector to develop high-quality training resources for foster carers and make them available nationwide.

Matching and stability

One of the main issues that came through in evidence submitted to this inquiry was the importance of appropriate matching and placement stability. We received written evidence that suggested stability of care enables children to recover from traumatic experiences and facilitates continuity and stability in other areas of life, such as education and the ability to develop friendships and other relationships.

There are many negative results of a placement breaking down: placement instability can harm a child’s chances of developing secure and longstanding attachments and affect their emotional wellbeing and mental health, and can cause delayed access to support services and difficulties in maintaining contact with family and friends.

Poor matching and placement breakdowns are regularly cited as factors in foster carers’ decisions to give up fostering.

We heard from many who raised concerns over foster carers being forced to accept placements from outside of their approval range. Ofsted wrote that “the overall quality of practice to promote stability remains too inconsistent…matching decisions are not consistently as thoughtful and carefully evidenced in foster care as it is for adoptive placements”.

Often, a placement breakdown or move necessitates a change of school. Over 2,000 children experienced at least one educational placement change as a result of a fostering placement change during 2015–16.27 Research on the educational progress of looked-after children has found that educational placement changes are a significant risk factor for the educational outcomes for children in care, particularly if they occur later in schooling. Longer placements are generally associated with improved results. Instability also increases the rate of absence from school, which is another detrimental factor in results.

Respect and recognition

A recurrent issue which emerged throughout this inquiry was the amount of respect and recognition foster carers receive for the work they do.

The charity Become told us that as those that know the individual child best, and who often have many years of training and experience behind them, “carers need to be automatically seen as experts with a place at the table alongside other professionals”.

The Fostering Network said that “When you are talking about the person that could speak for the child with the loudest voice, knowing that child best, in most cases, the most appropriate person is the foster carer”.

The British Association of Social Workers said that “they are an important member of the team around the child and need to be recognised as such” However, we heard that this is often not the case.

The committee were told that a lack of respect for the role of foster carers causes tensions and difficulties in their relationships with social workers and other professionals involved in the care of those they foster. When their own knowledge or opinions are not taken into account, many carers resent being told what to do and having decisions made for them by those with less experience or knowledge of their child, or fostering generally, than themselves.

4. Fostering the future, Social Market Foundation, 2021, Mathew Oakley

This report is the first of two reports that look at how to improve the system of foster care in England. The need to do so is clear. Children experiencing the system have significantly poorer outcomes than their peers without care experience.

Taken at face value, the number of available placements in the foster care system is large enough to meet the number of children needing care within it. Evidence also suggests that “…the overwhelming majority of children who need to be fostered are quickly found placements.” However, overall, this report finds that it is very unlikely that the current system meets the needs of children and young people within it. There are a number of reasons for that:

Placement instability – Despite a recent focus on improving placement stability, evidence on the current foster care system reveals significant levels of instability that are highly suggestive of poor placement matches due to a lack of effective capacity. More than half (51%) of foster placements that ceased in England in the year to the end of March 2020, lasted for less than six months. More than one in ten (12%) lasted less than a week Next-best placements – Existing reviews have suggested children are placed in the most appropriate of the available places, rather than necessarily a placement that meets their needs.

If all foster carers were qualified through a quality qualification pathway then all foster carers would be placed to meet needs.

Research from the Fostering Network’s State of the Nation 2019 report found nearly a third (30%) had been asked to take children from ‘outside of the type of fostering that they are approved for’ Of those with a specific age range for which they are approved, the report found that 32% had felt pressured into fostering outside of their age or type of fostering range; hardly a signal of a system that has an adequate supply of foster carers to meet the needs of those children coming into foster care.

All of these examples point to the fact that is that it is not the overall number of places that are available that matters. It is the appropriateness of these places and whether they meet the needs of children coming into the system.

This suggests that, in the context of a system that currently looks to be failing to meet needs because of a lack of effective capacity, the future is only going to get worse.

Meeting needs relies on the extent to which local authorities are able to understand the needs of children requiring foster care today and in the future, and then recruit and retain (directly, or through IFPs) the right number and range of foster carers to meet these needs.

The evidence in this report suggests that to meet legislative sufficiency duties, local authorities are likely going to need to have a large supply of foster carers (and fostering households), over and above the number of children in need of foster care.

Combined with the increasing number of children needing to be fostered and the increasing complexity of needs presented by these children, this suggests that the overall number and diversity of carers within the system is likely to need to increase significantly.

This means that, across the fostering system, we need to understand how many foster carers would be needed, and the skills, attributes and training they would require, in order to meet the needs of children and young people needing fostering now and in future years.

Conclusion

The number of children in foster care, and the diversity and depth of their needs have increased over the last decade and look set to continue to increase. Our previous reports have highlighted the need to raise our collective sights to try to close the gulf in outcomes between children with care experience and their peers that have not had experience with the care system.

However, there is no escaping the fact that outcomes for children with care experience are worse than their peers without experience of care. This can be seen across a range of indicators including wellbeing, education and health.

Children and young people requiring foster care come into the care system from a range of different circumstances and situations, with very significant (and varied) needs. To meet these needs effectively, local authorities must ensure that they (directly, or through IFPs) have access to enough foster carers with the right skills, experience and personal qualities to match the needs of current and future children in need of foster care.

This raises the obvious question of the extent to which local authorities are currently successful in meeting this challenge;

    Aside from the overall number of foster care placements available, as highlighted above, it is also clear that for children’s needs to be met, available places and subsequent matches between child and carer need to be able to cater for the specific needs of the child or sibling group in question.

    To do this, local authorities need to consider a range of factors in trying to find the best possible placement for a child….and the extent to which a particular placement (including the skills, experience and personal qualities of the foster carers) is meeting the needs of a particular child in need of foster care.

    However, existing reviews have suggested that at least some demand is being met through “next best” placements where children are placed in the most appropriate of the available places, rather than necessarily a placement that meets their needs. This has been found to particularly be an issue where authorities are looking to place older children and children with more complex needs.

    This lack of focus on matches that meet children’s needs is a real issue; children matched to suitable foster placements are more likely to stay there longer and research shows that children in stable placements have better outcomes. For example, they are more likely to have higher education outcomes, to be in work in future and feel better about themselves.

    Despite a recent focus on improving placement stability, evidence on the current foster care system reveals significant levels of instability. Of the 49,780 foster placements that ceased in England in the year to the end of March 2020, 12% (6,150) lasted less than a week and another 11% (5,590) lasted between a week and a month. Overall, more than half (51%) of foster placements that ceased lasted for less than six months.

    Taken together, this all points to a system that is not doing all it should to support some of the most vulnerable children in our society. With this in mind, it is essential to consider what would be needed in future to ensure that there are enough foster carers.

    Recommendations

    The starting point in ensuring that the foster care system can meet the needs of children requiring foster care is understanding what the needs of these children are. In fact, legislation requires local authorities to do just this. The “sufficiency duty” requires that local authorities: “…ensure that there is sufficient accommodation for looked after children that meets their needs and is within their local authority area.”

    Given the findings above, it is clearly impossible for local authorities to systematically identify gaps where they might need to target recruitment or training. However, aside from understanding needs, we can separately consider whether local authorities are able to understand the skills, experiences and characteristics of the current pool of foster carers.

    The government’s review summarised that “…our understanding of the availability and skills of foster carers is not good enough” and rightly concluded that the implication of this is that: “…we can’t expect to recruit the right number and type of foster carers and in the right parts of the country when we know so little about the capabilities and location of current carers”.

    Summary

    While headline figures show there are enough foster carers to meet current demand, a wealth of evidence suggests that the system is struggling to recruit and match carers with the right skills and background in the right places to meet the growing demand for places and range of children’s needs.

    A lack of data on foster carer skills and availability as well as children’s needs makes it difficult to understand the true scale, location and nature of the underlying problems and for local authorities to plan effectively to address current and future gaps in capacity. With this in mind, it is no surprise that local authorities’ recruitment and commissioning activities draw significant criticism.

    All this points to a systemic failure of local authorities to meet their statutory sufficiency duty. Given the widespread nature of these challenges, this report is not about pointing the finger at particular local authorities. Instead, it highlights the need for significant improvements in this area across the board.

    Combined with the increasing number of children needing to be fostered and the increasing complexity of needs presented by these children, this suggests that the overall number and diversity of carers within the system is likely to need to increase significantly. However, understanding how much effective capacity needs to increase is virtually impossible with existing information. Recommendations below suggest how this can be tackled in the medium term.

    Develop a national strategy for increasing effective capacity

    Given the findings in this report, we expect that this review will conclude that there is a systematic under provision of placements in the current foster care system. As such, we expect that a significant recruitment exercise will be needed to increase effective capacity. This will mean ensuring that the overall numbers of foster care placements increases and that this increase goes hand in hand with ensuring that the placements can meet children’s needs.

    Conclusion

    The number of children in foster care, and the diversity and depth of their needs have increased over the last decade and look set to continue to increase. This report has shown that we currently have no systematic way of understanding whether the fostering system is able to meet the needs of looked after children today, let alone in another five or ten years’ time.

    5. Foster carer retention and recruitment in England, Key research findings and recommendations, May 2023, Fostering Network

    Retention

    Foster carers feel they are not ‘receiving sufficient support from fostering services’ or ‘feeling valued and respected by fostering services and social workers.’

    Positive experiences were noted by foster carers when social workers and fostering services treated them as equal members of the professional team caring for a child. This included being invited to professional meetings and actively involved in decision-making around the child. Being made to feel genuinely appreciated was noted as a key factor in feeling valued and respected.

    This is often a result of the perception of the foster carer as simply child care, a more qualified fostering community would certainly help them and their views to become more professionally recognised and respected by services and social workers.

    Other contributing factors to considering stopping or continuing fostering

    Peer support: Foster carers who hold employment alongside their fostering role experience difficulties with building social connections with other foster carers, many of those who do not work meet up during the day.

    Foster carers also felt that retention would be improved if they had inductions, better training and support.

    6. Looked After Children - The silent crisis, The Social Market Foundation 2018

    At first glance, the care system is effective at achieving its goals. It is widely acknowledged that the majority of children in care experience more positive outcomes than they would have if there were not taken into care and that children in care often experience better outcomes than those in the wider group of “children in need”.

    Aiming higher

    The first question is about “what good looks like”. This report outlines that services to help looked-after children need to do two things:

    Our ambition should be nothing less than a system which helps looked-after children catch up with their peers and achieve the same outcomes, and have access to the same opportunities, as any other children.

    What more can be done?

    The Fostering Regulations 2011 say that the fostering service provider must provide foster carers with training ‘as appears necessary in the interests of the children placed with them’ and they should be ‘familiar with policies’ but no guidance to the quality or quantity of that education.

    There is a need to increase professionalisation and support for foster carers.

    Social outcomes

    Unsurprisingly, the life circumstances looked-after children face can test their emotional resilience and cause large amounts of anxiety. This frequently manifests itself in mental health issues, and in 2015, the DfE and DoH estimated that nearly half of children in care had a diagnosable mental health issue, and two-thirds had special education needs. The combination of these issues means that mental health issues of looked-after children will often go undiagnosed, and the child will not receive the support they need.

    During care

    Avoiding instability is key as frequent changes of placement is associated with worsened outcomes.

    Studies have shown that transient placements create climates of instability, anxiety and worse outcomes, and studies have explored the negative mental, educational and social consequences of placement breakdown for children in foster care.

    In short, whilst care is frequently a force for good in the lives of children, this is at least partially due to the stability and protection it offers, and in circumstances where this breaks down, it can exacerbate the same problems children face prior to entering care.

    Other areas, such as placing children with their siblings, are also important as separation can also be damaging, whereas placing children together has been shown to improve outcomes such as educational attainment.

    Due to this, at least some of the outcomes that children face can be directly attributed to the care system, in particular to….children in care who suffer from significant placement instability.

     

    Focussing on problem areas

    Combined with raising the profile of this silent crisis and improving monitoring and accountability, it is also clear that the right reforms in the right places could make a world of difference to the most vulnerable children in our society.

    Areas that we uncovered during our research are highlighted below.

    Stability and out of borough-care

    While some children will need to be placed out of the borough and/or experience a number of placement moves each year, those working in the sector highlighted a range of concerns that placement moves and out-of-borough placements were still too frequent and led to detrimental outcomes for those involved.

    Monitoring performance – foster carers

    Overall, we know very little about the people caring for the large majority of LAC. Foster carers are not assessed by Ofsted and there is no national strategy for assessing whether their skills, qualifications and experience meet the needs of the range of children who need fostering. An increased understanding of these figures, and a better measurement of the relative effectiveness of public and private fostering providers, is urgently needed.

    Professionalisation

    This is linked to an ongoing debate around the status of foster carers and whether foster care should be regarded as a profession. There are a range of arguments in play surrounding professionalisation and it is a complex area.

    However, if ambitions for improvement of the system of care for LAC are to be met, carers with the right skills, experience and qualifications will be needed to meet the needs of each child. It is hard to imagine a system that could deliver this without at least some form of formal professionalisation.

    Monitoring performance

    Local Authority and private/voluntary providers: While all providers of care for LAC are assessed by Ofsted, the existing framework makes it incredibly hard to be able to compare the performance of Local Authority and private/voluntary providers for specific placement.

    7. National Minimum Standards

    The Government’s Training, Support and Development Standards (TSDS)

    The government developed the TSDS as part of a national strategy, supported by the DfE, to raise the profile of foster carers as valued professionals and to improve and standardise service provision for looked-after children.

    The TSD Standards for Foster Care are underpinned by the Principles and Values Statement which applies to anyone who works with children and young people and The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Completion of the TSD Standards is a requirement for all approved foster carers in England and is referenced within the National Minimum Standards for Fostering Services 2011.

    All foster carers have to do the TSDs regardless of other qualifications as they are specific to the unique role of the foster carer.

    Does the NFCQ meet the National Minimum Standards?

    However, the rest is devolved, with each fostering service interpreting the below National Minimum Standards, Standard 20.

    STANDARD 20 – Learning and Development of foster carers

    Underpinning Legislation: Fostering Services Regulations (2011) 17 – Support, training and information for foster parents 28 – Reviews and terminations of approval Outcomes;

    Foster carers receive the training and development they need to carry out their role effectively. A clear framework of training and development is in place and this is used as the basis for assessing foster carers’ performance and identifying their training and development needs.

    8. Summary

    Why a standardised education pathway?

    Summary findings

    Where the NFCQ can fill the gaps without major change:

    Change through the NFCQ

    Putting the children at the heart of all we do

    Qualifications ensure that foster carers have the necessary skills, knowledge, and experience to meet the unique needs of children in foster care. They are trained to provide a safe, nurturing, and supportive environment that promotes the child’s physical, emotional, and educational development.

    Raising outcomes

    As you will see throughout this paper there is plenty of evidence and statistics to demonstrate the critical and immediate need to raise outcomes for children and young people in care.

    Placement stability

    Stable loving homes are at the very heart of foster care, however, that stability is grounded in the foster carer’s ability to meet the child’s needs, it is clear throughout this page we need carers to be educated, qualified, respected and valued. None of these things are mutually exclusive and will drive up placement stability, the holy grail of foster care.

    Understanding Trauma

    Many children entering foster care have experienced trauma, such as abuse, neglect, or separation from their families. Qualified foster carers are trained to understand the effects of trauma and provide appropriate support and care to help children heal and thrive. It better equips them to create stable homes built on love.

    Understanding Behaviour

    Foster carers need to possess education in trauma-informed care to understand behaviour as a symptom of underlying trauma and develop and learn effective responses and relational work in co-regulation and self-regulation to help children heal and thrive.

    Legal and Policy Knowledge

    Foster carers must be aware of the legal and policy frameworks governing foster care and their role to ensure they meet all the necessary requirements and obligations. Qualifications provide carers with an understanding of the legal and ethical considerations involved in foster care, such as confidentiality, documentation, and reporting procedures.

    Collaboration with Professionals

    Qualified foster carers are better prepared to collaborate with professionals involved in the child’s life, including social workers, therapists, and educators. They can actively participate in decision-making processes and support the child’s overall well-being by maintaining effective communication with all relevant parties.

    Support Network

    Qualified foster carers often have access to a support network that includes other experienced foster carers and professional support services. This network can provide valuable guidance, resources, and emotional support, ensuring that carers are well-equipped to handle the challenges and complexities of fostering.

    Continuous Development

    Qualifications often require foster carers to engage in ongoing training and professional development. This ensures that carers stay up-to-date with the latest research, best practices, and developments in the field of foster care, allowing them to continually improve their skills and provide the best possible care to the children in their care.

    Overall

    Qualified foster carers play a crucial role in providing stable, nurturing environments for children in need. These qualifications help ensure that children receive appropriate care, support, and opportunities for growth and development during their time in foster care.

    Recruitment

    According to the government’s latest figures 138,075 people enquired about becoming foster carers, only 8,280 made applications, out of the 5670 completed applications 4025 withdrew, and whilst some are still in progress only 1575 were approved.This ‘conversion’ rate is extremely low and we feel it doesn’t have to be, fostering services can commission support from the NFCQ from enquiry to application and throughout the approval process to ensure these conversion rates substantially increase, including a dedicated support person, NFCQ groups pre-approved, before, after and during the approval process.

    9. Foster carer’s feedback

    To understand how things work in practice we like to bring you comprehensive comments from a cross-section of carers from across the UK. These foster carers are a broad-spectrum representation of the fostering workforce with different lengths of service, age ranges and diversity of children from both local authorities and agencies. These are the real experts who understand the workings of our industry in real-time.

    “We have a massive shortage of teenage placements in a fostering sector more suited and set up for younger children, government figures show us up to 65% of children are between 10-18, so it’s a big percentage to slip the net. Many end up in unsuitable accommodation because of it and most sadly do not thrive. There have been multiple programmes and recruitment drives over the years, very few a success. Being an experienced foster carer specialist in adolescence for 15yrs I know what is needed and what is missing. You need a good grounding in trauma informed care and an in depth knowledge of the standards, regulations, laws, policies and procedures, knowing the limitations of your role and importantly the role of others around the young person. Also massively important is support from experienced foster carers and peer support.”
    Foster Carer
    “We’ve only just started fostering and I don’t know where we would’ve been without FosterWiki, I’m not sure why the LA isn’t promoting it more all my fostering friends use it. I’ve even used the helpline to be honest it’s the best help I’ve had from anyone they really helped with an issue I had and I was able to sort it out!”
    Foster Carer
    “I think ‘Skill to Foster’ should be renamed ‘A brief introduction to fostering’ as it was totally inadequate for the role we were about to take on.”
    Foster Carer
    “Honestly if you really want to be a Foster Carer you will do it come hell or high water we did…. However if we had the FosterWiki guidelines then we would not be here now.”
    Foster Carer
    “Since COVID-19 the ‘education’ has been online which makes it easier to access for me as I live 20 miles from the usual venue in the city. Most things offered are quite basic and we do a lot of reading ourselves on topics relating to the placement. 10 years ago, as carers with 3 years experience of in looking after babies, we were given a NAS baby to care for after he was in the hospital for 2 weeks. Waved goodbye to the baby by midwives and a leaflet on NAS saying that this baby was at increased risk of cot death within the first 3 weeks! First time reading that and hadn’t been told. Never felt such responsibility for keeping him alive!!”
    Foster Carer
    “If I have to do one more bonding exercise, or ice breaker, silly games with flashcards, or items with labels stuck to them, or moving around the room going to different ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ labels stuck on walls, or be trained by one more social worker who’s never fostered in their lives I think I’ll go mad. You’d think we were 6-year-olds, it makes me want to jack it all in”
    Foster Carer
    “When signing up for courses it does make me think why do they have ‘foster carers’ only. I naively thought -‘How lovely being able to actually meet other foster carers, speak freely……. But there is always a non-foster carer in the mix which makes me guarded.”
    Foster Carer
    “Course presenters need to be evaluated and considered if appropriate too. I had to go through years of teaching. And if you question presenting social workers it goes against you.”
    Foster Carer
    “I taught for a number of years and had to qualify to do so both in the subject matter and as a trainer.”
    Foster Carer
    “One course I was on recently on therapeutic parenting, they concentrated half a session on mindfulness (we even had a meditation exercise that we had to do) Now whilst I appreciate the importance of mindfulness I think the time could have been used more effectively by talking through scenarios and putting the theory into practice?!”
    Foster Carer
    “What I found most interesting was the course contradictions – and yes I couldn’t help but point these out. Which will obviously go against me in feedback to my SW!”
    Foster Carer
    “Our training is basic, to say the least, and the certification means absolutely nothing out in the real world. I have managed to source some free training from various colleges and unis which give proper certificates. I source a lot of my own training and reading resources or TV programmes. When I sent this all in on my last HHR they removed everything which wasn’t run by the County so I put it all back in again!”
    Foster Carer
    “I’ve been asking to do the Therapeutic training offered by respected organisations for years but they won’t pay for it.”
    Foster Carer
    “The only training of value has been from CAMHS, the Police, St John Ambulance and the online courses offered by HSCP as they are usually given by charities or the Police (e.g. FGM) and that’s because it’s presented by people who actually deal with the issues being covered and not a random SW who is simply reading off slides or making us play stupid ice breaker games!”
    Foster Carer
    “The training offered by my LA is usually miles away from where I live and timings don’t take into account the fact that we look after children and therefore have school runs etc – something I have been telling them for years. I’ve enjoyed the online offerings but I also miss the interaction with other carers. It’s about time they offered us some real training with actually recognised qualifications.”
    Foster Carer
    “The ‘skills to foster’ is not good enough quality or content in my opinion. I agree training is basic and most of the certificates they produce mean nothing outside of the local authority. Of course, first aid and mental health are separate entities. A lot of the training is delivered by people who have no actual experience of what it is like to be in foster care or indeed the reality of fostering. Take train the trainer, I have met many people who just are not cut out for training as they don’t have the personality so they make it very boring. I have questioned some of the content and actually put this into practice. Team Teach is a weird one as everything taught is for two people and there are many single Carers and there is no one who has your back in case of an allegation.”
    Foster Carer
    “There are not enough Carers offered a diploma or higher and those are the qualifications that give you a good grounding and those qualifications are yours and worth something outside of the organisation. We hear all the time about a Carers skill set and matching however I think all Carers should be trained to meet all children and young people’s needs. All Carers should have the same good quality programmes of training across the UK. Outside the Local Authority, I think training really does depend on who you work for.”
    Foster Carer
    “I think some training is better online like GDPR etc the more basic training. I like to be offered both online and in person. I prefer training to be group discussions as you can take away a lot from other Carers. We all have different learning styles and I think it’s important they recognise this.”
    Foster Carer
    “There should be more training around LGBTQ+ training, especially for social workers. I’ve been told I wouldn’t know how to care for girls cause I’m a gay man, been told that I’m like David from little Britain and I wouldn’t understand a girl’s views as we are a gay couple and there is no woman in the house and I had gay male parents myself.”
    Foster Carer
    “Our Authority started for all employees, including foster carers, all kinds of courses online. You complete them and get a certificate. I personally like this given the young age I personally foster and other commitments I have because you can choose what you want to learn about at a time that suits you. Might not be for everyone but I like it.”
    Foster Carer
    “I think there ought to be more training and understanding around additional needs. For example, FC could be dyslexic, dyspraxia, ADHD, ASD. Make absolutely brilliant FC but the way some of the training is taught will not be suitable. Extra allowances and support and time for things like TSD. Etc.”
    Foster Carer
    "We have a massive shortage of teenage placements in a fostering sector more suited and set up for younger children, government figures show us up to 65% of children are between 10-18, so it’s a big percentage to slip the net. Many end up in unsuitable accommodation because of it and most sadly do not thrive. There have been multiple programmes and recruitment drives over the years, very few a success. Being an experienced foster carer specialist in adolescence for 15yrs I know what is needed and what is missing. You need a good grounding in trauma-informed care and an in-depth knowledge of the standards, regulations, laws, policies and procedures, knowing the limitations of your role and importantly the role of others around the young person. Also massively important is support from experienced foster carers and peer support."
    Sarah Anderson Foster Carer

    Sources/Links

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