Research by Dr Carolyn Blackburn, Research Fellow in Early Childhood Studies, Centre for Research in Education, and Bharat Chauhan, Head of Department for Social Work, School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work.
The number of children and young people in care is rising faster than the number of foster carers. This independent evaluation of Fosterline services aimed to identify the contribution that Fosterline makes to the important government function of recruiting and retaining foster carers in England.
The objectives of this independent evaluation were as follows:
- To identify the need and demand of the Fosterline services in supporting existing and potential foster carers in their caring role today and in the future;
- To establish what impact and difference is made to foster carers and their signposting agencies as a result of Fosterline intervention;
- To collate, analyse and synthesise qualitative and quantitative data to demonstrate the role of Fosterline in recruitment of new foster carers and retention of existing ones;
- To utilise SROI (Social Return on Investment) as an impact mapping exercise to ascertain the cost: benefit savings that Fosterline creates for the state and society in real cash and in-kind terms.
This independent evaluation was undertaken between January and March, 2015. The project had three strands, including desk research, a survey and case study interviews with foster carers.
- Strand 1 involved a brief desk study of current published literature that focused on the social, educational and long-term outcomes for children in foster care, the impact of providing support for foster carers on their well-being and that of children and the effectiveness of helpline support such as that provided by Fosterline.
- Strand 2 involved an initial survey to existing and prospective foster carers who had used Fosterline services and signposting agencies.
- Strand 3 involved 12 case study telephone interviews with existing and prospective foster carers across England. Case study participants were selected to provide a maximal variation of foster carers utilising the services of Fosterline including diversity of social, cultural and geographical variables.
Foster carers are motivated to foster by intrinsic and altruistic drivers such as a desire to improve children’s well-being and long-term outcomes as well as more practical drivers related to their own accommodation and financial resources. Some are motivated by personal life experiences and prior professional experiences.
Foster carers’ aspirations for children are concerned with children’s immediate social and emotional development as well as the influence of this on their future social inclusion, employment and family prospects. The main challenges reported by foster carers in their fostering role related to communication and relationships with Local Authorities, Independent Fostering Associations and social workers as well as the communication between professionals within these organisations.
Fosterline’s role in the recruitment and retention of foster carers as reported by participants in this evaluation is to provide impartial and independent advice about a range of sensitive concerns and issues when foster carers feel they have no-one else to turn to. Sometimes when foster carers contact Fosterline they are at crisis point in terms of their fostering career and their emotional resilience to cope with the situation. Fosterline responds by listening, encouraging, empowering and valuing foster carers’ perspectives and concerns in a way that enables them to act on the advice and support given.
Implications for policy and professional practice are discussed within the evaluation. Foster carers are calling for a ‘new deal’ in terms of working conditions and more effective communication between professionals, as well as a change in attitudes by professionals towards foster carers and children. A team around the foster carer approach is suggested within the evaluation as a way of working with foster carers in a more collaborative and respectful manner. The report and executive summary can be found on the Fosterline website.