Freda Lewis makes a plea on behalf of those caring for looked after children in Wales
The number of children in care in Wales is at an all-time high. Combined with a continuing shortfall in foster carers and growing financial pressure on local authorities, this means the system is struggling to cope and it is the children who are suffering as a result.
Around one in ten children in care in Wales now move home three or more times a year, which is a shocking statistic. Every time a child moves on they have to adapt to new families, schools and friends, making it harder to form relationships, to trust people and to do well in school.
As well as relationships breaking down and children moving on, foster carers in Wales are also reporting problems at the start of placements. Only a third say there is a proper plan in place when a child moves in, and nearly two-thirds do not get all the information they need to care for a child properly.
Everyone working with children in care recognises the importance of a stable home life to their development, so this should be a wake-up call to us all that something has to change. The system is in need of a clear and urgent overhaul.
In the ten years since the Fostering Network Wales was set up, there have been some important improvements, including a national minimum fostering allowance which should end the postcode lottery and ensure that all the costs of looking after a fostered child can be covered.
We have also seen the introduction of training standards to help foster carers develop their skills and quality of care. There have also been moves towards giving fosters carers, the people who know the children best and spend the most time with them, more authority to make everyday decisions without having to continually seek permission from social workers.
This has made a difference and there are thousands of children across Wales who know the value of good quality foster care. However, despite these improvements the system is still failing too many children. There is clearly still a long way to go.
If we really want to provide the growing numbers of children in care in Wales with the security and stability they need, foster carers must be given the recognition and support they deserve as a core part of the team working with a child instead of putting barriers and obstacles in their way, preventing them from doing their job.
And foster care has to become a real priority. Nearly 80 per cent of children in care, the vast majority, now live with foster families. So making care better means making foster care better. Let’s invest in our most vulnerable children and those that care for them. The long-term alternative doesn’t bear thinking about.