Foster carers making their voices heard – we should listen
Last Wednesday, foster carers from our Foster Carers Advisory Committee shared their experiences with ministers at a reception at 10 Downing Street. This event, part of Foster Care Fortnight™, was hosted by the Secretary of State for Education, Rt Hon Gillian Keegan MP and supported by the Minster for Children, Families and Wellbeing, Claire Coutinho MP. This was the first event dedicated to foster carers ever held at Downing Street, but hopefully it was the first of many!
The Education Secretary said she had heard foster carers described as the fourth emergency service. She acknowledged that, sometimes at very short notice, late at night, foster carers will step in and take a child into their home and family and look after them – whatever trauma that child has experienced. She acknowledged the emotional toil that foster carers experience in supporting children who have experienced trauma and loss but also in sometimes saying goodbye to the children as they return home or move on. She thanked them on behalf of the Government for their commitment to children.
But the event didn't just feature the voices of politicians. Foster carers stood up and gave powerful accounts of their experiences. They described how some supported others using the Mockingbird model. This had enabled a foster carer to have a night to themselves – something that they had not been able to do for years – but they still felt guilty about wanting and needing this time for themselves.
Some explained how they were worried about bills and the cost of living – both now and in the future. Yes, there have been some positive announcements on this from Government, but this hasn’t helped everyone. Some foster carers said they had ended successful careers to look after vulnerable children and dedicate their time to them. This had a major impact on their financial situation, and many raised that not receiving a pension currently made them worry that they may struggle financially in later life for the service that they are giving now.
Some foster carers talked about finding it a battle to get children the support they needed. They didn’t understand why it had to be so hard when all the professionals were supposed to be working together. Foster carers revealed how they were excluded from ‘professional meetings’ as they weren’t considered professionals, yet they knew the children the best. They stressed that supporting young people after 18 was important to them but they were unsupported financially and practically for this, and this set vulnerable young people up to fail.
What I also heard were stories of hope. Foster carers who helped children and young people celebrate their identity, helped them in their own development, helped them in their self-confidence. They supported children through to and into adulthood. They talked about how they helped young people begin to overcome some of the adversity of their earlier years. These were ordinary people doing superhuman things every day.