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Birth Families

Foster Child

Does this apply to me?

Kinship or Family & Friends foster care ONLY applies where the child has been in the care of the social services and they have placed the child with you.

If you have come to a "private arrangement" with the child's parent/s, even if social services have assisted you in some way, this will not be able to be considered as coming under this scheme.

By Lucy Hines

Introduction

DID you know that across England, nearly one in six children within the care system is being looked after by a friend or relative? It's a surprising statistic, and one that demonstrates just how valuable these carers are - to the children they look after, and to the social workers who are responsible for foster care. But does the system value them enough?

Both the Children Act 1989 and basic common sense dictate that youngsters must benefit from being cared for by people they already know and trust - but do these selfless individuals, who bring other people's children into their homes, and love and care for them, receive the recognition, support and financial help they deserve?

Recent allowances ruling

People such as these - dubbed 'friends and family' carers - do receive a fostering allowance once they have been assessed and approved, but until a crucial ruling by the High Court against Manchester City Council in September 2001, they were routinely paid less than mainstream foster carers for doing the same vital job. Now, however, local authorities have been told that in many cases they should pay the same rates to relatives and friends as they do to other carers. More recent news on allowances. Whilst this is a great step forward there are still the issues of levels of training, support and even assessment that remain inconsistent from one social services department to the next.

There may be more up to date law / allowances information here.

But how do the friends and family carers themselves view the way they are treated?

Single mother Stephanie, 46, has looked after her step-sister's son, Daniel, eight, since he was less than two years old. Daniel entered the care system after being neglected by his mother, a drug user - but six years later, he is now settled and happy in a long-term placement with the woman he calls his 'Number One'. Stephanie, from Hampshire, said: "At first I said I'd look after him for two weeks, to give his mum a break, but it just went on and on. I didn't want him to be moved from one place to another within the care system anyway; I wanted him to have a stable life." Stephanie had never fostered before she took Daniel into her home, but after being assessed, and gaining official permission to look after him on a permanent basis, she decided to go further, and is now approved as a mainstream carer. She added: "The assessment process was a bit intrusive, with the social workers in and out of my house, but it was okay. It didn't take long, because they wanted things to move quickly. It's definitely helped Daniel to live with me, because he still sees his family. My mother is his grandmother, and my sisters are his aunties. It's been hard work, but I've really enjoyed it. I wouldn't give him up for anything."

Undervalued?

Friends and family carers are different from mainstream carers in that they are usually approved for only the child, or group of children, that they are looking after, and assessment often takes place after the placement - which can be long- or short-term - has begun. The Children Act states that social services departments should explore the possibility of placement with the child's relatives or friends before turning to mainstream foster care. Placements with relatives are generally stable and successful. Benefits to the child can include the elimination of the trauma of living with carers that they do not know, continuity of support networks, and less likelihood of disruption in schooling. However, although mainstream carers are required to attend a comprehensive course before fostering - aimed at helping children cope with separation, grief and abuse - many friends and relatives, although undergoing the same police checks as conventional carers, receive very little or no training at all.

But children looked after by friends and family face the same problems as any other young person in care - as mother-of-five Jane Dobson, 64, from Southampton, knows. Jane also fell into fostering by accident two years ago, when her friend Lorraine, a mainstream foster carer, was having problems looking after Jake, then three. That was two years ago - and now Jake is soon to be adopted by Jane's daughter, Theresa. Jane explained: "Jake had behavioural problems then; he'd been in eleven different foster homes, and nobody could control him. I used to babysit for him, and I knew him quite well - so when Lorraine said she couldn't cope, I agreed to have him at weekends. "Three months later the social workers asked if my husband and I would have him full-time...so he came to live with us."

After a 'probationary' year, and undergoing police checks and assessment by social workers, Jane and her husband Derek, 67, were approved as friends and family carers for Jake. They have now branched out into mainstream foster caring, and have recently taken in a two-day-old baby on a short-term placement - although they are still waiting to be officially approved, and like Stephanie, have also had no formal training. Jane added: "When you've had five children of your own, parenting just comes naturally. We've had excellent support from social services, though. "Jake's behaviour is much better now, because he's found love and a permanent home. He's still got problems, but he's really blossoming. I wanted to foster all my life - and I'm so glad we did this." If it wasn't for the love, patience and hard work donated by carers such as Jane and Stephanie, many more children around the UK would be forced to spend their lives in children's homes, and the country's already stretched social services departments would be under even greater pressure.

National organisation the Fostering Network is now calling for friends and family carers to receive the respect they have earned. Jackie Sanders, Media and Communications Manager, said: "Some local authorities view these people as a cheap form of care, but they shouldn't be seen like that. These placements are the best thing for the children involved, and they should be treated as such. Friends and family carers should receive the same training, assessment, approval and support - both financial and practical - as any other foster carer. They should get the recognition they deserve."

Recent Publication "One of the family: A handbook for kinship carers" is available here.

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