Adoption Activity Days, an opportunity for prospective adopters to meet children awaiting adoption, are now a well-established means of family finding. However, facilitating the same opportunity for children requiring permanency via fostering is still a relatively new concept.
On the 31st March 2018, just over 53,000 children and young people were living in foster care – an increase of over 1,000 compared to 31st March 2017 . In the past, there was a tendency to prioritise permanency via adoption. However, in 2015 long term fostering was given legal status in the Children Act 1989 and has now been defined in legislation and highlighted as an important route to permanency.
Despite this, the latest national statistics show that the number of approved foster carer households decreased by 9% compared to 2017-2018. Recruiting enough foster carers for the number and variety of children has become a national challenge. Fostering in England 2017-2018 states that 8,000 new foster families are needed each year to address the on-going shortage.
Securing permanency for children who need to remain in foster care has rightly been put in the spotlight by some forward thinking LAs. They have driven the concept that all children, regardless of their age or whether they have a plan for adoption or fostering, need a permanent placement.
Coram-i’s work for the Department for Education’s Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme aimed to boost permanency for children in foster care by introducing profiling events and Activity Days for Fostering. Some agencies found profile exchange events to be a very successful aid to family finding. Social workers attend, as do family finders and both share information directly with potential foster carers, giving them the chance to ask questions about the needs of the children and the support available. Giving foster carers up to date information and the chance to meet professionals in this way has encouraged expressions of interest in the children.
One foster carer who attended an activity day said: “It is crucial to find out more about the child from those who know the child. An out of date referral form doesn’t do the child justice. It was so important to us to meet the children and their carers and get a real overview of the child’s needs. I am more inclined to say no to the placements team as I feel uneasy with the information, especially as we do want to make a longer term commitment”.
Potential families attending activity days had the opportunity to meet the children behind the referral form, to gain insight into the real child and their personality. The case of two siblings N (female aged 4 who has a disability) and M (male aged 5) who participated in one of the Fostering Activity Days shows the enormous potential of bringing children and potential foster carers together in family-finding events. N was diagnosed with a genetic syndrome resulting in cardiovascular disease, developmental delays and learning difficulties. With the initial adoption search unsuccessful, the plan was adapted to look for permanent foster carers.
At an activity day W (an approved internal carer) was eager to know more about the children having spent time with them at the activity day. After meetings and introductions went well, the children moved in with W where they are now happy, settled and said to be thriving. W feels certain that the connection she made on the day with the children when playing and chatting with them made them ‘real’ and believes that some carers may have been put off in coming forward for the children if they had simply just seen their profile.
Fostering Activity Days are also an opportunity for children and young people in residential provision to secure family-based foster care. Fifteen-year-old Sean* was living in residential care when he was matched with a family. Sean’s foster carer said:
“looking at a paper profile of children can sometimes give a bit of a different feel… we are proof that what we may have overlooked on paper profile, can be quite different in face to face meetings”.
These successes also bring financial benefits to the agencies. Typically, a 15 year old in residential care would cost the agency around £3,500 per week. Changing to a family-based care placement leads to a financial saving of at least £2,500 per week – as much as £130,000 per year for potentially another three years.
Coram-i is delighted that the success of the project has encouraged some participating agencies to utilise this form of family finding again. One head of Corporate Parenting said:
“Coram’s approach to fostering activity days turned one dimensional child profiles into the reality of loving children needing loving forever families. The failures of the traditional approach to permanence are all too obvious to see now that we have adopted activity days as standard practice. I, for one, cannot wait until the next event and the real positive outcomes in children’s lives it will undoubtedly bring”.
In the current climate, agencies are awash with referrals and children deemed to be the most challenging are often unfairly overlooked. Activity Days for Fostering swing the balance back in their favour, and restores hope that permanent family-based care can be achieved.
By Sally Beaumont
Sally Beaumont is a social work consultant with Coram-i as part of the Innovation Project and is focused on improving permanency via fostering. For more information on Activity Days for Fostering please contact Sally on 07740 745591, or email [email protected].