Commenting on the results of an FOI request from Action for Children showing that one in three children are separated from siblings in foster care, Sue Kent, Professional Officer at The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) said:
“Although we recognise that it is not always, in every case, in the best interests of a child to be placed with their siblings, these latest figures from Action for Children are alarming.
“Foster care is perceived to be a safe haven for children who have often suffered horrific abuse and for whom living at home is no longer an option. It is so sad to see that despite endless research over the years that suggests a child’s chance of life success is strengthened by placement with siblings, this is still not happening.
“Through experience and knowledge professionals know that to make the transition as painless as possible, children who have to move, should do so with their siblings, unless this is deemed inappropriate for an individual child but that is a very rare situation.
“A child can suffer significant loss when they move into foster care and this is not only the loss of their parents, but loss of their home, sometimes their school and community but worrying the loss of their siblings. Loss can lead to identity issues and further difficulties in later life, as this report suggests.
“The solution seems easy, to recruit more foster carers to take larger sibling groups. However, issues such as space - it is recommended that each foster child should have their own room and this has to be of an acceptable size - and resources (overloaded social workers and social care staff unable to respond, local services offering facilities closing, funding rarely available for home building extensions, for example) appear to be preventing possible carers coming forward.
“In relation to finance, foster carers often have periods between caring for children where they do not receive a fostering payment, some receive a retainer but certainly not all, and this has led to them seeking other work and no longer fostering. It is only recently that there has been a partial U-turn on benefits as the rooms occupied by foster children were deemed by the authorities as spare rooms and benefits reduced accordingly.
“Social workers report that council fostering teams are so stretched that there is an emphasis on placing children within their own local authority rather than with external providers who may be best placed to support a larger sibling group but who may cost more. Many of our members have been told that placements outside the local authority have to come to an end irrespective of the needs of the child.
“Independent Reviewing Officers (IROs) have a duty to challenge such care plans but report having difficulty in challenging management for fear of repercussions, a process which is improving but still exists. IROs need the structure and support to make such challenges as this is essential for all children looked after by the state. Don’t forget that it is often in an emergency that children are found alternative homes, social workers admit to being happy to get a bed for the child irrespective of where their siblings will be.
“The impact of public spending cuts continues to hit the workforce; social workers also tell us that there are potential foster carers out there who may well offer the right home to a sibling group but with not enough capacity in the system to get these people assessed quickly, they are left to wait.”
“As the mixed economy of providers grows, the child’s needs must remain central in all decision making and all efforts must be made to recruit and support dedicated people who come forward to offer children, unable to live with their parents, a home with their siblings, whatever the cost.”