Dr Justin Rogers, Mark Furnival, Rebecca Wright, Steve Stockley and Ian Thomas June 19th 202
The Martin James Foundation is an International charity working across the world to develop and provide high quality foster care and family support services. Internationally we are supporting governments and partners in several countries to set up pilot foster care services, strengthen family-based care and support further development of national child protection services. Within the foundation we have not for profit affiliates called Key Assets that are providing support and foster care to vulnerable children and families. These services are operating in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Japan. In the United Kingdom the foundation’s affiliate FosterTalk has provided high quality independent support to foster carers and their families throughout the UK since 2007. FosterTalk delivers Fosterline the independent advice and support helpline for the Department for Education. FISS provides face to face support to foster carers during the investigation of an allegation or serious complaint. F.I.S.S. is Foster Carers Independent Support Service providing independent support for foster carers facing allegations or investigations into standards of care under National Minimum Standards 22.12. FosterTalk have submitted a detailed response to this inquiry, which is wholly supported by the Martin James Foundation. This submission is not intended to duplicate their good work but supplement it with a specific focus on the impact that Covid-19 has had on the mental health of fostering households.
Foster Carer Survey
This submission will provide a summary of findings from an online survey that MJF conducted through FosterTalk’s members. The survey was intended as a quick response and aimed to explore issues relating to mental health in foster care. The survey was opened for one week from May 22nd to May 29th. It was completed by a total of 406 participants. Participants were recruited through an email to the FosterTalk membership that outlined the survey’s aim to explore the issue of mental health in foster care. Consent was obtained through the terms and conditions of the FosterTalk membership. It was an anonymous online survey and it was open to the members discretion if they wanted to participate and there were no incentives offered for respondents. We used Google forms to collect data and Google sheets to collate the data. The survey included a combination of closed questions, Likert scaled questions and open questions for the opportunity to provide additional comments. The main findings from this survey are outlined below and this is followed by a section highlighting considerations for policy and practice.
Context mental health and UK foster care
In a time where a pandemic has cut short so many lives and affected the social and economic wellbeing of many more, it is understandable that people’s mental health is being impacted upon. Kousoulis et al (2020) argue that the mental health impact of this pandemic will last much longer than the impact it has had on the population’s physical health. A recent survey from Young Minds highlighted the impact that the covid 19 pandemic is having on young people’s mental health, with 83% of the young people they surveyed who had pre-existing mental health needs reporting challenges and a deterioration in their emotional wellbeing.
It has been well documented that as a group, children and young people in public care have poorer mental health than the rest of the population. NHS statistics from 2002 suggest that 45% of children in public care have a mental health condition and that this is compared to 13% of their peers who are not in public care. It is therefore important as we experience a global pandemic and the existential threat is poses to our health and wellbeing to understand the needs of children and young people in public care so we can best support them.
1) Survey Findings
The survey focused on the following key areas; a) Children and young people’s mental health, anxiety and Worries; b) Access to mental health support before and during covid; c) The impact of lockdown on children and young people’s behaviour; d) The impact of lockdown on the foster carers mental health.
a) Children and Young People’s Mental Health, Anxiety and Worries
The following quotations from three different foster carers highlight how this presents in their households.
It is also important to highlight that 18% of carers reported the children they cared for were coping well during the crisis and the absence of pressures such as school resulted in happy children with improved mental health.
Although this has been stressful, it’s been great for the kids as they have been home 24/7, no contact and no school… we have been able to therapeutically parent and meet the needs they missed…
b) Access to mental health support before and during covid
33.7% (n137) of the carers reported that the children they were caring for were receiving ongoing support for their mental health prior to the crisis. Almost half of these carers, 44.5% (n61) reported that the children and young people’s mental health support services were stopped because of the pandemic. Accordingly, there seems to be an almost 50/50 chance as to whether mental health support continued, and this is reflected in the following two quotations.
c) The impact of lockdown on children and young people’s behaviour
Data shows that carers also perceive that the behaviour of the children and young people has become more challenging. 36.9% (n150) of the carers reported that behaviour had become worse or much worse.
The following quotations from two respondents highlight their thoughts on the factors within lockdown that impacted on behaviour.
It is also important to highlight that 21.6% (n88) of the carers felt there was an improvement in the children and young people’s behaviour, reporting behaviour was improved or much improved. The following quotations from carers provides their view on why that is the case.
The majority of the carers (53% n219) reported their mental health was unchanged. However, data reveals that over one third (34.7% n141) of these respondents felt that fostering during the covid-19 crisis has impacted negatively on their mental health.
The following statements form the carers highlight how it has impacted on them.
Summary of Key Findings
We acknowledge this survey is limited in scale and scope. However, these responses from 406 carers offer valuable insights into the unfolding experience of fostering during a global pandemic.
With the mental health impacts of this pandemic likely to outlast the physical health impacts it is important that support services are fit for purpose. Children and young people in public care are vulnerable to mental health challenges so it is vital their needs are considered in covid-19 recovery plans. It is also important that the contribution of foster carers during this pandemic is recognised as they have supported often vulnerable and traumatised children through the most difficult of times. The five recommendations below highlight the need to ensure mental health services for looked after children are built back better and that we care for our foster carers so they are able to provide the best support and care.