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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

Fostering is not Airbnb for children without families

This opinion piece is almost 7 years old

Susan Smith questions the impact of the latest charity campaign to persuade more Scots to foster

Most Scots would never foster was the headline from a new Action for Children campaign this week.

A poll by Action for Children found that 88% of people would not consider fostering, even though half of us have spare rooms.

So, it has launched the #myspareroom campaign in a bid to encourage people to think differently about fostering.

It’s an interesting idea and a catchy hashtag but the chances of this campaign achieving its aims are low. Why? Because negative charity campaigns rarely work and because fostering is not Airbnb for children without families.

Paul Carberry, Action for Children’s director for Scotland, described the situation as “shocking”, saying there is a “fostering crisis”. Currently there are 800 children in Scotland in need of safe and secure home, the press release states, and the shortage of foster carers hits teenagers with complex needs hardest.

The fact that so many young people are in need of foster care in Scotland is awful. We know from previous charity campaigns that children over five struggle to find adoptive families; fostering is the only option for older children entering the care system even when they definitely can’t return to their own families.

Many caring people will be moved to donate to Action for Children by this reality. Guilt is a common trigger for fundraising, but it’s unlikely to persuade people to become foster carers. Fostering is a unique and very specialist activity – part job, part volunteer, part parent – and it’s not got a particularly attractive image – foster carers are underpaid, overworked and have limited employment rights.

Just last month TFN covered the story of James and Christine Johnstone, who took Glasgow City Council to an employment tribunal over whether they were official council employees who should enjoy the rights that go with that. While they were successful, the judge made it clear that this wasn’t a precedent for “ordinary mainstream foster carers.”

Responses to Action for Children’s campaign on TFN’s Facebook page highlight the problems with it.

One foster carer says: “Having a room is only a tiny part of it. I am a foster carer, luckily I am able to also work in another job, however, had my fostering agency and local authority not permitted this, I don't think I would still be a foster carer 8 years down the line. I would guess this is a major factor that puts people off.”

The #myspareroom campaign makes good use of digital with a virtual reality experience that tells 10-year-old Sophie’s story. There’s a video version on Youtube where you can watch a spare room change from a cold plain empty room to a warm inviting little girl’s bedroom full of clothes, toys and posters.

Sadly, though, it feels like virtual reality in tone too. The foster parent voiceover begins: “Our new home had a spare room, and one day out shopping we saw an Action for Children poster. It made us think how many children needed a home like ours to stay.”

A far more realistic motivation would be that they love children, they've been considering fostering for years and now want to make a really positive contribution to the life of a troubled youngster. The video underplays the challenges of fostering and doesn’t mention love once.

There is a fostering crisis, but blaming the public for it undermines the real issues that stops people from fostering. More positive campaigns that highlight the genuine benefits and joys of foster care would be far more likely to get results.