New Scheme To Support Foster Carers

A new government scheme supporting Northern Irish foster parents to help fostered children to achieve their potential has been officially launched in Belfast. The scheme, Fostering Achievement: supporting foster carers as first educators, is the first of its kind across the UK. Managed by charities the Fostering Network and Include Youth, it will provide foster carers across Northern Ireland with independent access to advice and funding to improve the education of fostered children.

Research has shown that, in general, children and young people in foster care struggle to reach the same levels of social and educational attainment as their peers, with only 11% of those leaving care in 2003 had achieved five GCSEs or above (grades A* to C), compared with 59% of all school leavers.

Over half of all care leavers had no qualifications.

Though Fostering Achievement funds and support are available for a range of services and resources such as IT equipment, arts and crafts materials, educational tuition and extra-curricular activities, including music, art and dance, which contribute to fostered children’s knowledge, skills and personal development.

Training, information and support will therefore be provided for foster carers on topics ranging from computer skills and internet safety to how to help children improve their literacy and numeracy.

Kate Lewis, director of the Fostering Network Northern Ireland, said: “Children who live in the care system should be given the same opportunities and levels of support as those who live with their own families. For too long this has not been the case across the UK.

“Now Northern Ireland is leading the way in helping fostered children reach their potential. This scheme defines education in its broadest sense: in recognising that funds are needed to provide fostered children with access to computers and other equipment, and by allowing them to follow extra-curricular pursuits that others may take for granted, Fostering Achievement aims to help improve children’s confidence and self-esteem as well as their academic results.”

She continued: “Crucially, the scheme puts foster carers firmly in the driving seat, by giving them the tools to engage competently with the education system, and to inspire, help, cajole and persuade fostered children that they can achieve.”
The scheme is funded by a £1.04 million grant as part of the Children and Young People Funding Package.
There are currently 2,500 children and young people in the care system on any given day in Northern Ireland, of whom 1,400 are living with foster families.

Meanwhile, Health Minister, Paul Goggins has announced a major new initiative to improve educational opportunities for children in foster care, which will provide five hundred foster families with free computers this year to help the education of young people in their care.

Foster carers will also be able to get a range of other equipment and help including: educational tuition, musical instruments, including sports equipment and driving lessons.

Mr Goggins said: “Children in care face many difficulties. Generally, they do much worse than their peers at school. This can mean that they subsequently have difficulty in finding employment. Children in care can also lose out on other opportunities to develop their skills in music, art, dance and other areas because they are in care.”

The Health Minister, also announced a substantial increase in allowances for Foster Carers in Northern Ireland.

The substantial increases for foster carers from October 1 will see a minimum allowance for a child aged 0-4 of £102 per week, rising to £151 per week for older teenagers.

The increase in foster care allowances is one strand of a six million pound investment in foster care over the next two years.