Measures need to be stepped up to ensure foster children are placed with their siblings where possible, MPs have warned.
Publishing a report into fostering, the education select committee said that “efforts need to be redoubled” to place children with their siblings.
“One issue that is close to the hearts of many young people is that of placement and contact with siblings,” said the report. “The Children and Young Persons Act 2008 states that when a young person in care has siblings also in care, local authorities should accommodate them together so long as it is reasonably practicable and consistent with welfare considerations.”
In 2015–16, Ofsted reported that 13,610 brothers and sisters were assessed to be placed in foster care, with 10,895 assessed to be placed together. Of these, 9,415 (86%) were placed together although these figures do not include children who were already in foster care. However, a 2012 survey by Ofsted of nearly 2,000 looked-after children found that 71% of those in foster care who also had a sibling in care were not placed together.
“Research has found that outcomes for children placed with siblings in foster care are mostly better than for those placed separately, with placement together generally associated with greater stability, improved educational outcomes, and more favourable mental health outcomes,” said the report. “In his evidence to us the Minister reiterated that the government feels that it is important that sibling groups stay together, and that social workers and other professionals involved should prioritise efforts to this end.”
As a result, the report recommends that the government takes action to place young people with their siblings whenever it is possible and appropriate to do so, and facilitating regular and meaningful contact when it is not;
The report also urged the government to ensure consistency of practice and application of guidance with regards to:
- Preventing placement breakdown, by encouraging foster care providers to resolve issues earlier and offer support to build a family environment;
- Giving accurate and relevant information to foster carers and young people prior to the commencement of a placement, and sufficient notice in advance of a placement change;)
- Ensuring that policies for listening to and engaging with children and young people are being followed in meaningful ways;
- Keeping young people informed about decisions and developments regarding their care; and
- Providing young people with advocacy services, and explaining their role and availability.
The committee’s report urges government to carry out a fundamental review of the whole care system, recognising the relationships between different types of care, addressing wider underpinning issues, and ensuring that the care system is fulfilling its purpose.
It calls for the establishment of a national college of foster carers to focus on improving working conditions for foster carers saying: “For a college to be truly national and accessible, it should be a virtual association, which works to represent foster carers, share knowledge and resources, and bring greater prestige to the role of foster carers.”
The government should also ensure that all foster carers are paid at least the national minimum allowance, consult on national minimum allowance levels, to investigate the level of funding needed to match rises in living costs and allow carers to meet the needs of those they are caring for and review and update current taxation rules for foster carers.
The report says that the issue of capacity needs to be addressed and says the government should establish a national recruitment and awareness campaign for foster carers.