As a foster carer, I see a lot of tragedy and sadness in my work. And not least of this has been the business of what happens next – what sort of outcome is waiting for children who have been placed in the care system. And, as many of us know, it’s often pretty bleak. Many will also know the statistics about the prospects for children who’ve been raised in children’s homes – time and again reports are published confirming what we all suspect to be true: that, without loving family homes, they often fall by the wayside, trailing behind when it comes to exams results and job prospects, and, sadly, so often ‘topping the charts’ when it comes to unemployment, drug use and petty crime.
But it’s not just kids in children’s homes who’ve suffered poor outcomes. Till just over a year back, there was no financial support for foster parents to keep children over the age of eighteen either, meaning many had to fend for themselves at a time when many children are at their most vulnerable; yes, they’re officially adults, but in most cases they are just finding their feet, so it’s a time when having a safe place is vital. And when you add in the many extra difficulties faced by almost all foster children, it’s obvious that it’s a terrifically stressful time; a time when they could all too easily make self-destructive choices.
I know what some might say – that it’s not just about the money. That there’s nothing to stop foster families keeping their foster kids for as long as they want to, particularly where the emotional bonds are very strong. And I know from my own experience that many foster families choose to continue to provide both support and a home.
But in too many cases, it IS about the money. Foster carers come from all walks of life and many of them – I would even suggest a majority – come from communities in which every penny does really count. For such families, the payment they are made for fostering is vital; without it, they would simply not be able to provide for a child’s needs – be they 12 or 14 or 20.
Which is why the inception of the Staying Put scheme was such a breakthrough, because it enabled families and their foster children to stay together, and for support to remain in place till the age of 21 – giving these young adults the security to aim that little bit higher. Freed from the anxiety of trying to find a home, and of being essentially cast adrift, it was hoped that it would make all the difference to young adult foster children – the difference between getting into the job market and not doing so, and making the idea of higher education an achievable dream.
So you can imagine how thrilled I was to hear the recent news about the first year of the scheme, and that it’s been, in their own words, such a ‘spectacular success’, with over 2000 vulnerable young people remaining with their foster families who might otherwise not have been able to; who might otherwise been adrift and off the rails. So I did a little fist pump (a la Tyler :):)) but at the same time a little head shake as well. D’oh. How could it NOT have been a success? It’s not rocket science, after all!
But it’s still important to champion and support the scheme, or, like many other initiatives that have the power to make a difference, it might be as vulnerable as the kids themselves. These things cost money – something about which councils are always concerned. As with many of us, they have to count the pennies too, of course.
But that’s the key thing. Vulnerable, disaffected, troubled young adults also come with a cost (and, potentially, a much greater one) if, unsupported, they develop mental health problems, get into drugs, indulge in crime…. You know the score. So please share the good news, so we can keep the pressure up!
The full report, from the BBC, can be found here.
Love C xx