The Big Ask was the largest-ever survey of children in England, with over 550,000. This enables us to dig down to understand the experiences of particular groups of children, such as those in care.
Nearly 4,000 children living in foster care responded to The Big Ask, and we have taken the opportunity this Foster Care Fortnight to find out more about what they had to say.
The good news is that the majority of children living in foster care who responded to The Big Ask were happy with their life overall.
Ambitions for the Future
Children’s responses to The Big Ask demonstrate how this is an ambitious generation. Indeed, children in foster care expressed a range of aspirations for the future and were no less ambitious than children living with their birth families.
For most children in foster care, as with other groups of children, having a good career in the future is their top priority. They were also concerned about having enough money to buy the things they need, having good friends, and getting a good education.
Many had big dreams about careers that they would like to pursue when they grow up, as we heard children say:
‘Be an artist’ – Girl, 6, and another said: ‘Be a pop star’ – Girl, 13.
Almost a fifth of children living in foster care spoke about family, in a wide range of contexts. Many children spoke about positive family environments, and the impact that these had on them. As part of the Family Review the office will look at these themes in more detail.
Younger children in care talked about wanting to stay with their foster families in the longer term, while older children reflected on the opportunities they had benefited from as a result of having a foster family. This was reflected in the testimonies of children:
‘Always live with my foster mummy and daddy forever until I’m old’ – Girl, 6
‘Stay with my foster sister’ – Girl, 7
‘I know I will have a better chance for myself, because my foster carers work hard to help me and promote my relationship with my birth parents. Because of that I feel like I have more love than a normal child. It makes me feel stronger like I can have the confidence to be a police officer and I can achieve the qualifications I need’ – Girl, 14
However, not all children shared positive experiences. Some children talked about being treated differently due to their care status, or not having access to the same kind of opportunities as children who are not in care. As children said:
‘If you are in care you don’t get treated the same. Even living in a family things are not the same as I have to ask permission from my social worker before I can do things’ – Boy, 11
‘As a looked after child, I feel that the system sets us up to fail. To attend a top tier university which has been my dream since I was little I would have to forfeit my placement which has become my forever family and I don’t think that’s fair as no child should be made to choose between an education and dream career or their family. Children who were lucky enough to get to stay with their biological families don’t have to make this choice’ – Girl, 15
Some younger children living in foster care talked about wanting to return to living with their birth parents. As these children said:
‘To live with my mum and dad and see them more’ – Girl, 7
‘Live with my mum and dad because i am in foster care’ – Girl, 8
Alongside this, children in foster care also often spoke about having a good family life in the future. As these children said:
‘A nice family and nice friends and pets’ – Girl, 7
‘Be happy start a new family get a nice home’ – Girl, 9
Support for Children in Foster Care
Children also raised the need for proper support and stability, to help them achieve their goals. As one 15-year-old girl said:
‘Young people should be able to achieve what they want when they grow up they need love, stability and time with a loving family.’
Some children also spoke about how it could be hard for them and their carers to find the right support. One boy said:
‘Getting the right support and therapy to help with my childhood trauma and severe PTSD as there is not many people who can do this with children and it takes a very long time to get funding or for my foster parents to be listened to by professionals’ – Boy, 10
This is an issue we are all too aware of through calls to our Help at Hand service for children in care and those with a social worker, and care leavers. Getting the right support when leaving care was important for older children and young adults. Unfortunately, many of the responses on this subject indicated that this rarely happened. With the prospect of having to leave home and leave their foster family at 18 was a particular concern. This is something that many children spoke about:
‘Being a care leaver. We have to grow up before our time e.g move into a flat but still be controlled as if we are 12’ – Woman, 19, care leaver
‘I wanted to have a special guardianship order as a way to cement my relationship with my forever family, my foster carers agreed, but the reality was, that I would lose much of my leaving care rights and have even less opportunity to succeed in life. Nowadays, birth children stay with their families until late 20s and even into their thirties; as children in care we do not get this opportunity’ – Girl, 15
Our Vision for Improving the Lives of Children in Foster Care
Children’s social care is a core pillar of the Children’s Commissioner’s office, and a top priority for me during my time as Commissioner. The Big Ask demonstrates how children in foster care want the same security and stability – of home, relationships, and education – as other children. They want the care system to provide them with a supportive foundation to achieve their goals, and to set them up for happy, healthy lives in which they can thrive, as well as strong relationships with the grown-ups in their lives that last into adulthood.
I want to raise the ambitions we have as a society for children growing up in care. This means building on the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care to set out a new approach, with a clearer outcomes framework, more support to help families stay together, and a strong focus on improving stability for children in care. In January 2022, I published a Vision Paper for the Children’s Social Care System. This set-out an ambition for a system built around the core elements of good care all children and families should expect: to be listened to and responded to, to have relationships that are trusting and stable, to feel loved, and supported, and to be able to access practical help and support. This year, I will be using the opportunity presented by the publication of the Social Care Review to work across Government to push for ambitious reform, and my team will continue to support children in foster care through our Help at Hand team.