A review into the fostering system in the UK has urged councils to give foster parents more discretion in parenting their foster children.
The independent review, published today, encourages local authorities to remove red tape preventing foster parents from making everyday decisions about children’s haircuts, clothes and friends. Unless a foster parent adopts a child they do not have legal parental responsibility. For children in care, the responsibility for the well-being of the child lies with the Local Authority; foster parents are responsible for the day-to-day care of a child in their care within the confines of their home.
However the report suggests that there were unnecessary bureaucratic barriers meant foster parents had to contact children’s birth parents to making day-today decisions:
"Carers have a remarkable vocation. But they are frustrated when they are excluded from discussions leading to important decisions about their foster child or when they are thwarted from using sensible discretion when making day-to-day decisions about the child or children in their care."
The review, authored by Sir Martin Narey and Mark Owers’, also expressed concerns that foster parents were being discouraged by local authorities from expressing physical affection towards the children they are fostering for fear of abuse allegations. Affection is "vital to a healthy childhood and to making children feel like other children", they write.
The review, conducted over the past six months and based on interviews and submissions provided by hundreds of foster parents, providers and children, makes 36 recommendations to the government. However Narey and Ower’s report was more optimistic than many expected, emphasizing that the care system in England, in which fostering plays a predominant role, has an "undeservedly poor reputation". "The reality is that fostering is a success story", the report explains, children in care are remarkably positive about fostering and their sense of wellbeing is “surprisingly high”.
The Adoption of Children Act of 1926 first created legislation to offer a legal status to adoptive and foster parents. In recent decades as the use of children’s homes has reduced, fostering has become more and more common to become the "success story" that Narey and Ower describe. Their positivity may disappoint some would-be reformists. Only last week the chief executive of the Fostering Network, Kevin Williams, shared his hopes with the press that the fostering review would recognise the need for urgent reforms.
The report also touched on a recent legal battle sought in a claim by one foster parent against Hampshire County Council to extend employment rights to foster carers. “This could negatively affect the heart of fostering,” write Narey and Owers, rejecting the notion that foster carers should be defined as professionals with equivalent status - for example - to social workers:
"While their views are not simply important, but often vital, they are frequently unable to take a dispassionate view. And quite rightly too. We want foster carers who will be as biased and tenacious in pursuing the interests of their foster child as most of us are in pursuing the interests of our own children."