Dr Seuss said:
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
Living and spending time in a loving, secure and stable environment is incredibly important for all of us. We all want to feel like we belong, that we are loved and cared for and this is especially important for children and young people who are unable to live with their own families. A safe, secure and loving home, as well as a school which is consistent and nurturing, makes a big difference for our looked after children. I’m delighted that this is reinforced through the Children’s Commissioner’s 2018 Stability Index. Anne Longfield is right to shine a light on this important area of practice. There are over 70,000 children currently in the care of the state in England. Many have experienced significant adversity in their home lives before arriving into care. A stable home, understanding school and consistent support from social workers is crucial to enable these young people to feel safe and well cared for.
The report confirms that stability can support a child to flourish in their home and school whilst in care, and reduce the impact of any difficulties they have already had to endure or any compounding problems. A stable home, a stable school which enables children and young people to form positive trusting relationships so they can thrive, and stable, strong relationships with consistent professionals, all contribute towards helping children and young people to feel safe and ready to succeed.
The report challenges those of us who work in and lead the sector to “do better”: it points to more appropriate and thoughtful approaches to matching so that children are placed with the right carers who are supported to meet their unique needs. This requires urgent national attention: The Fostering Network estimates that over 5,900 new foster families are needed in England to meet current demand. As the number of children in our care increases, so too does our need for foster carers from all walks of life. There is a collective moral purpose to change the narrative around care and to build the reputation of fostering to encourage a more diverse mix of people to come forward. The report highlights the importance of schools who nurture so children and young people are emotionally ready to learn. Headteachers want to be inclusive and nurturing of our most vulnerable children but too often the accountability regime acts as a barrier.
Finally, the report highlights the need for a relentless focus on the workforce, so relationship-based social work practice can thrive. This will require a national approach so that the most highly qualified graduates want to become social workers and where the profession is valued and respected by all including the media. These are the key ingredients which need to be in place for all of our looked after children. Relationships matter; they matter in families, in schools and in our work.
So I welcome the Stability Index and its commitment to shining a light on the importance of stability, and its challenge to us to improve how care is experienced for our looked after children. As Dr Seuss said, “To the world you may be one person; but to one person you may be the world.”
Guest blog by Debbie Barnes, Director of Children’s Services, Lincolnshire