National FASD Brian Roberts in a library

Foster carers

Foster carers need information about FASD.

This insight is from Brian Roberts. Together with his wife Brian has been a Local Authority Foster Carer for over 25 years. They have cared for numerous affected children and young people and currently share their home with 3, aged 12, 18 and 21.

As foster carers the children and young people who come to live with us face loads of challenges. Often their experiences are vastly different to anything that we have lived through. The challenges are made all the more difficult if they have been affected by FASD, especially if no one has realised.

As foster carers our role is to make a positive difference to their life chances. In England, in 2011 the Government urged us to advocate for their children that we live with ‘as if we were a pushy parent’ (Education Minister, Edward Timpson’s Letter to foster carers introducing the Foster Carer Charter 2011.)  As far as raising the issues of FASD this is quite appropriate.

That does not detract from the hundreds of positive and joyful moments that foster carers experience with the young person as they share our lives, but when talking to others ‘pushy’ advocacy is often a key role.

This insight concentrates on those factors that can be opportunities for a child who is affected by FASD. We face everything that other parents face, but one or two things set us apart.

The key is to keep the child who lives with you at the centre of each and every discussion you have and advocate like mad for them using all the diplomacy and evidence that you can muster to reach a more positive outcome. As foster carers we have a unique insight into everything that impacts the child.

In all of the countries of the UK fostered children do have some advantages over and above their peers who aren’t in the care system. After 25 years of fostering I am realistic. There are huge barriers to overcome and as foster carers we need to use every opportunity to allow those that live with us to reach their full potential. This includes those with FASD.

Be under no illusion, it is not easy, it will be frustrating, but if we can turn the challenges faced into opportunities then things can be a little easier.

Opportunities

1

You will have noticed that there are many more adults involved in the lives of looked after children. Now at first glace that may not seem to be much of an advantage, but if you can join the team around the child up and get planning moving in the same direction then you can achieve a very critical mass.

Things will get done.

It will often be down to you to galvanise that team. Let’s face it you probably know the young person better than anyone else and sadly at the time of writing, you will also be the person who knows most about FASD. Hopefully in the near future this will change.

This is going to require all of your diplomatic skills, but your research and training will also count towards your personal development plan. Counting to 10 will also help!

2

A looked after child has many more medical assessments. As a minimum, annually for 5 and older and every 6 months for under 5’s. Each of these is an opportunity to raise FASD. You have the chance to present your evidence to illustrate your concerns. Ask for assessments or other support that will help them

In England for over 10 years there is a statutory requirement to consider whether a young person has been affected by prenatal alcohol consumption at every medical assessment.

Health assessments should….pay particular attention to health conditions that may be more prevalent in looked-after children (such as foetal alcohol syndrome or attachment difficulties) and which may otherwise have been misdiagnosed.”

Promoting the health and well-being of looked-after children statutory guidance for local authorities, clinical commissioning groups and NHS England, March 2015.

3

Sadly, a large proportion of children in care have Special Educational Needs (SENs). Many more need to catch up with their peers due to their past experiences, even those without an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) have formal scheduled Personal Education Planning (PEP) meetings every term, including in nursery, post 16 and those without an educational placement.

As with the medicals these are another three opportunities to challenge about where the characteristics associated with FASD are impacting their learning and/or socialisation and plan to address any issues identified.

4

Another positive aspect is that we work in a system where at least two other independent professionals can influence planning and support a reasoned and evidenced argument.

As foster carers we are regularly formally supervised, and our performance is annually reviewed. Maybe 12 times a year we can discuss the challenges a young person faces and their achievements.  At least twice a year the care plan for the young person is reviewed by an Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO), who is independent of the child’s planning. These meetings afford more opportunities to make the case about either identifying FASD or planning to meet the needs of that young person.

5

Taking a child or young person into care is expensive, but corporate parenting responsibility means that when this happens then everyone should strive to make a difference. I am not suggesting for a minute that this is easy, but with the critical mass alongside you plans can be funded that change lives. In our case this has allowed us to sidestep exception funding panels in the NHS when looking for assessments.

Spending is quite rightly scrutinized and therefore it may take longer than we like, but considerable resources can be accessed in a way that is not possible for a non-looked after child.

In school there is also the advantage of Pupil Premium Plus, significant additional funding over and above that available to a typical student, so once again there is less of a struggle to get things done.

We do not know how many children and young people are affected by FASD within the care system. Logic tells us that it is likely to be higher than in the general population. In Peterborough in 2013, 34% of all the Looked After population were noted as having prenatal alcohol consumption that needed to be considered as a major factor in their assessments. A figure that jumped to 75% for those who had adoption medicals.

(Gregory et al., Adoption & Fostering Coram / BAAF, October 2015).  This means that in your fostering career you are quite likely to share your house with someone who has been affected.

It is also important to remember that evidence points to the fact that if an affected young person understands how they are affected then this will help them to over come any barriers that they face. This does create a tension because many of those who share our homes have regular contact with their birth families. This is even more of a challenge when they actually live with relatives within the foster care system. 

Therefore, building a sensitive narrative that is accurate, focused on the future and does not dwell on the past must be a priority.  We cannot change what has happened, but we can make a huge positive difference moving forward.

Finally, as foster carers we do not have parental responsibility, sadly, sometimes we aren’t even seen as being part of the corporate parenting bubble. However, this does not stop us from being the conscience ensuring that all is done to allow those who share our homes to reach their full potential.

FASD and Trauma – Parenting Tips for Carers

Initiated and written by two Hertfordshire foster carers, Sue and Tony Sharp, this guide helps all who are parenting at the intersection of FASD and trauma. This is co-produced by National FASD and the East Hertfordshire and Area FASD Support Network.

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