6. Statement by the Minister for Social Care: Our vision for foster care in Wales

Part of the debate – in the Senedd at 5:16 pm on 14 May 2024.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Dawn Bowden Dawn Bowden Labour 5:16, 14 May 2024

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd, a phrynhawn da. I very much welcome the opportunity to make my first statement as Minister for Social Care about our vision for foster care in Wales. As we enter Foster Care Fortnight, this is a real opportunity to celebrate the progress that we're making to improve fostering services and to highlight the important work foster carers do to give children and young people a loving home.

There are more than 7,000 children in the care of local authorities in Wales, and many have experienced abuse and neglect. These children are among the most vulnerable in our society, and they deserve the best possible future. It's our policy to try to keep families together wherever we can, but sometimes it's not possible for children to remain with their families, so foster care is a way of offering children and young people a safe and nurturing home when their birth families are unable to do so.

Our vision is for all children in foster care in Wales to have stable lives, to have trusted relationships, to feel cared for, and to benefit from high-quality foster care for as long as they need it, allowing them to make a successful transition to adulthood and independence. 

In the short time that I've been the Minister for Social Care, I've been impressed by what I've learned about the work that's been done to improve the fostering sector, and I want to pay tribute to the dedication and commitment of my predecessor, Julie Morgan, who has done much to promote and improve fostering. This work has been done in the face of pressures on public sector finances and the cost-of-living crisis, which has had such a huge impact on families all over Wales.

Dirprwy Lywydd, at the heart of these improvements has been Foster Wales. Launched in July 2021, Foster Wales is a collaborative national network of the 22 local authority fostering teams across Wales. Its main aim is to improve the ability of local authority fostering services to recruit and retain foster carers so that we can rebalance service provision, address demands, and ultimately improve the quality of placement choice for children.

But it also offers so much more. Foster Wales provides an opportunity to ensure local authority fostering services in Wales continue to develop and adapt to improve outcomes for children. Supporting Foster Wales is one of our key programme for government commitments, and we have provided £3.7 million towards its development. This funding has supported a range of new initiatives to raise the public profile and awareness of fostering, and to improve the offer for our existing foster carers.

We know that we need to continually recruit more foster carers, especially if children are to be looked after in the right place, by the right people, with the right skills to meet their needs. Foster Wales is key to this and is working towards the ambitious target of recruiting an extra 800 foster families by 2026.

To help raise awareness of foster care and encourage people to consider fostering, it has undertaken several campaigns, all of which represent the voice of children and young people in care. Our efforts are having a positive effect. The awareness of the Foster Wales brand has significantly increased, and local authorities are receiving more enquiries from potential foster carers.

But retention of foster carers is just as important, and we have directed significant investment towards this. Offering consistent support to our foster carers is key to retaining their expertise. Foster Wales has launched the national commitment, which is an agreed package of training, support and rewards enjoyed by every one of our foster carers in Wales. And I know that our local authorities are continuing to work hard to ensure the components outlined within this commitment are delivered on a consistent basis.

In response to feedback from foster carers, we’ve also developed a learning and development framework, which offers a consistent approach across Wales. And I'm pleased that foster carers are able to access these opportunities that meet their professional and personal needs, alongside supporting them to provide high-quality care for children and young people.

At the heart of our retention policy is the need to treat foster carers as equal and valued members of the team around the child. We're continuing to fund the foster well-being programme, which is delivered by the Fostering Network and promotes equality of status by bringing together all the professional networks involved in supporting children who are looked after, including foster carers.

Income is often an important consideration for families thinking about or continuing fostering, and I believe that those who care for our children should be adequately resourced to cover the costs of the children in their care.  We are in the process of undertaking a comprehensive piece of work to identify the costs of introducing a new approach to fostering allowances that focuses on the actual costs of caring for a child.

I understand and recognise how ambitious our programme of work has been, and the progress we've made to date has been considerable. It's thanks to the energy and the commitment of dedicated staff from across our fostering regions, our third sector partners and our foster carers that we've been able to achieve so much. 

However, there's more we can and should be doing to ensure our fostering services in Wales are as effective and efficient as they can be. We've seen the beginnings of a transformation in foster care, and I'm committed to continuing to review our policies and practices in Wales, to ensure that our foster families and fostering services have the support they need to guarantee the best outcomes for the children in their care.

I'm very much looking forward to continuing our journey to develop an effective, co-ordinated Wales-wide approach to transforming our foster care services, and ultimately building better futures for our children here in Wales. Diolch yn fawr.