The Adolescent and Children’s Trust (TACT) last week published important new research into the views of foster children and their carers. The research, titled Aspirations, was conducted by Professor Bob Broad of London South Bank University and analyses the views and experiences of children and foster carers as part of a ten year longitudinal study.
Bob Broad PHD, Professor of Children and Families Research, is a Visiting Professor at LSBU’s Social Policy and Urban regeneration Research Institute. He was previously Director of Research at the National Children’s Bureau and at De Montfort University.
The research paper was launched last week at the House of Commons. Professor Broad presented his findings to a audience of MPs and representatives from the Foster Network and the Adolescent & Children’s trust amongst other influential figures within the industry.
Professor Broad says: ‘It is especially important that children in foster care feel valued within a safe, stable, loving family situation. Their health and well-being are connected to their participation in family life, and decisions about their foster placement. This research study evidences the high value children in foster care place on their current carer whilst also wanting further contact with some members of their birth family. The study points to the positive yet often difficult journeys they make as they seek to sustain friendships, achieve a good education, and in some cases, improve their mental health and behaviour’.
The first cohort of children and their carers were asked their views about schooling, life skills, the importance of family and friends, involvement in activities and what helps to improve these areas. The study reports on their experiences of decision making, participation and connections in respect of living in foster care, education, review meetings and placement decisions.
44% of the children surveyed said they had no say at all at planning/review meetings about decisions that affect their lives. These meetings consider the short and long term decisions that affect the child’s life including where they live, how to support schooling and their emotional and physical health. Young people are supposed to be consulted and involved in making these decisions.
Children were positive about their current placements with 96% citing their current foster carer as a very important person in their life. Whilst only 73% cited their birth mother and 47% their birth father as very important.
The young people who took part in the study were generally very positive about their experiences of school. Worryingly though, what they found most difficult was getting on with exams, tests and homework. This is against a backdrop of national evidence that children in care perform in education radically below the levels achieved by their peers.
Children were asked what they would change if they had a magic wand. Among many areas, young people highlighted the inconsistency of social work practices as a major area of dissatisfaction, calling for more access to their social worker and for efforts from local authorities to reduce staff turnover.
One young person who took part in the study said, “I want a more reliable local authority social worker who doesn’t change all the time”.
Another, studying GCSEs, said, “I want to be able to see my social worker more often to help me with my schooling”.
Unsurprisingly, carers also said more support from social services was needed highlighting concerns around high staff turnover, attention to foster carers views, lack of information about the child and, not least, lack of consistency in quality of service. Positively though, 81% of carers said they was happy with their support from TACT rating it ‘excellent’ or ‘good’. This compares to a national study, Costs and Outcomes, which found this for only 55% of carers. TACT highlights the importance of high quality support and training to carers as key to success in delivering outcomes for children.
TACT Chief Executive Kevin Williams said, “Outcomes are about achievements, and for good achievements we must set high aspirations for children who have had, through no fault of their own, a bad start in life. It is about having those high aspirations as a marker and then working out what needs to happen to get there. Amongst the best people to us what works are children, young people and carers themselves. That’s what this report does”.
Further research is intended to take place from 2010 with a new cohort of 100 children and their carers including the 2007 group and the last stage from 2013 including both previous groups. TACT is currently seeking funding partners to see the project through to completion.
1. Aspirations: The views of foster children and their carers
2. Costs and Outcomes in Children’s Social Care (DCSF)
Posted: 17th July 2008