Children missing out as a result of foster carers not having the power to make simple decisions.
Going on a school trip, to a birthday party sleepover, to the dentist, to the doctor… As a foster carer, you often have to wait for the social worker to give permission. And by the time permission is signed off, that school trip or birthday party may have come and gone.
Only 1/3 of foster carers can make simple decisions
A survey carried out by the Fostering Network, revealed that only a third of foster carers were allowed to make this type of decision for the young people in their care.
As a result the young people they care for are disadvantaged, says Robert Tapsfield, chief executive of the Fostering Network.
“If you trust someone to care safely for a child who has experienced physical or sexual abuse at the hands of their own parents, it doesn’t make sense to stop them from making these types of decisions,” he says.
Frustrating for both foster carers and the young people in their care
Sue Coulter, a foster carer for 7 years, has experienced the frustration of not being able to make these simple decisions. She says that getting permission for a school trip, a standard part of a child’s education, can be “a nightmare”.
“You need permission for every hair cut, and now contact [with parents] is only once a month, it would mean a special trip out for the social worker for simple things you know the parents would agree to anyway.”
Children’s minister Edward Timpson has altered the guidance on foster carers being able to make decisions to give them more power. It now says there must be a a good reason not to delegate authority to a foster carer.
“It gives you the ability to be more of a parent”
Foster carer Alan Hudson from Staffordshire illustrates the difference that the power to say “yes” makes to the children. “I went to a parents evening at our girls’ school when delegated authority had just come in…I talked to the art teacher and it was mentioned there was a school trip the next day. I was surprised, because I’d not seen the form.” When Hudson approached his foster child, she hadn’t thought it worth showing him the paperwork…“because she thought it’d have to go to the social worker and it would take too long for a decision,” Hudson recalls. “But I had delegated authority, so I could give the go-ahead straight away. It meant so much to her.”
It means a lot to us as foster carers too. “It gives you the ability to be more of a parent…and it gives you confidence that you’re a core element of a child’s team.”
Social workers “all quite risk aware”
Catherine Robinson, fostering service team leader at Staffordshire county council knows that it is important to do what is right for the young person and acknowledges that social workers need to have some control to safe guard them, however she also highlights how it is important to “strike a careful balance that respects the rights of all parties involved”.
Her team has spent substantial time reflecting on how and when authority can and should be delegated.
But Robinson acknowledges that children’s social workers are “all quite risk aware. To address this, she says, “what we’re now trying to do is make an argument that if you avoid all risk, you limit a child’s life chances. It’s about looking at safety as opposed to allowing a child to gain experience.”