Comments, Globe, In Focus, United Kingdom

Foster families in the UK: a future every 22 minutes

British society is going through a crisis which falls on children. There are currently 45,000 foster homes and it is predicted that a further 8,750  at minimum, will be needed in 2012.


César Amaya Sandino

According to the Fostering Network these statistics show the cause of the collapse of the Foster Care System and are also an indication of social breakdown which puts children at risk and forces the state to look after their well-being.

The State is responsible for the temporary re-homing with foster parents of those children whose future is uncertain.

According to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), over 50,552 children were recorded on the child protection plan in the United Kingdom as of March 2011.

In London alone, around 6,095 children taken into care in 2010 with abandonment and neglect as the main causes, making up 2,885 cases. This is followed by physical and emotional abuse which totalled 2,530 and a total of 230 cases of sexual abuse were recorded.

Children of a very young age – the majority of which were victims of their own families – form the group with the highest incidences of such abuse.

Although there are also situations where young children are re-homed for having lost all respect for their parents authority, sometimes behaving violently towards them or others, the family problems where the parents are responsible, are the main cause of ‘forced departure’ of children and adolescents from their home.

Family and Society

Among the most common cases are those parents with alcohol or drug addictions, attitudes towards domestic violence, emotional and sexual abuse towards children, ill-treatment, family breakdown and child neglect and abandonment.

All of these situations put the well-being and sometimes the life of the children and young people at risk. According to the NSPCC, in the case of sexual abuse, in the period between 2010 and 2011, 17,727 cases in England and Wales were recorded, 37% higher than the previous year. Meanwhile, it was revealed in March of this year, that approximately 50,500 run the risk of being abused.

The report also indicates that the cases of sexual abuse, abandonment and neglect are not fully reported, therefore, figures are estimated to be higher.

As for murders, statistics in England and Wales are averaged at 56 child murders each year.

Furthermore, it is generally estimated that 1 in 10 young people has been abandoned or seriously neglected by their parents during their childhood.

In this scenario, the number of one-year-old children who were the aim of the protection plan last year rose to 4,630.


Figures show an obvious decline in family structures in the United Kingdom, which provide emotional and physical stability for children. It is in this reality where the abused and mistreated child develops psychological, behavioural and mental health problems.

Some signs appear when when feelings are expressed in a violent and aggressive manner.

They sometimes develop harmful or self-harm traits such as alcohol or drug addiction or belonging to street gangs.

These are some of the traits of many children and young people who form part of the excessive demand for foster homes in the United Kingdom and who pose a challenge for the system and for those into whose homes they are welcomed.

The Road Home

A child enters into the protection and fostering system when their parents cannot care for them over a period of time, whether it is because the parents become ill and disabled or due to a hospital stay over several weeks or even because of a legal decision to ensure the child’s safety and well-being.

Either way, the foster family become responsible for the day to day care of the child, while the authorities and decisions concerning the child are taken by the state in collusion with the biological parents, until a concrete solution is found.

According to the British Association for Fostering and Adoption (BAAP), in March of last year, the age range of fostered children were found to be 6% for children of a year old, 18% between 5 and 9 years old, 37% between 10 and 15 years old and 21 % were over 16 years old.

The figures are increasing and it is difficult to say if the results are good or bad as every case is different and there are positive and negative experiences.

The Positives and Negatives

The positive effect, in the case of many foster parents, is that of receiving professional guidance and therefore gaining experience in the care of their own children.

For the ‘fostered children’ they regain their self-confidence, their desire to study, socialise and steer away from violence.  They also recover from physical and psychological damage

One positive example is that of Clare Marshall, who was fostered from the age of 2 and after passing through more than 40 different families, now lives with a long term, stable and secure foster family:“It was difficult in the beginning, but in the end it gave me the inspiration, strength and determination I needed… My carer who I now consider my mum, instilled good values in me and she is the reason I have been successful and have been to university”.

There is also the case of Mark Marcus, who currently works for the BBC in Suffolk and remembers being fostered from the age of 2 or 3.

recalls having good memories of the different families with whom he lived and during the long period until his adolescence he was in contact with one of his brothers.

However, there are also negative effects, deep psychological problems as most do not know what is expected of them or what to expect from their future.

Once they enter into the system, they can change carer as often as necessary, developing antisocial attitudes and feelings and this can even result in suicide.

Such is the case of Andrea Adams, after having left her foster mother, Christine, she was allocated a place to live independently, but her emotional instability and mental health lead her to drug and alcohol abuse. Among several overdoses, incidents of self-harm and having reported being repeatedly raped, Andrea could not go on and chose to end her life at only 18 years of age.

Despite these psychological problems being evident before starting the fostering programme due to prior traumatic experiences such as sexual abuse, the constant change of home affects the child’s mental health, their youth and it even has effects when they leave the fostering programme.

The behavioural and emotional traumas can lead to murder, such as what happened in June 2011 when a youth stabbed his foster mum, Dawn Mackenzie in Hamilton, South Lanarkshire, after working as a foster family for 8 months with her husband.

In this way, the negative effects and the failure in the system seem to be becoming even more common.

In fact, a recent article in the Guardian relays some statistics concerning the outcome of those who complete the fostering programme, but it is not very encouraging. According to the article, a third of them sleep on the street, a fifth do not have a home, they represent half of all prisoners under 25, 25% are unemployed for a short period after leaving school and many end up in prostitution. Only 6% manage to reach university compared to over a third of the general population.

Fostering in Time

While family and social breakdown in the United Kingdom seems to have gained momentum over recent years, foster families have not always had the same significance, though it is a practice which dates back over 400 years.

In fact, as the writer, Samuel Johnson tells in his book A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (1775), the use of this practice was customary among relatives, normally landowners and intermediate social strata.

Being a foster family was an honour for the confidence which derived from it.  The child was delivered with an asset, normally cows, which would generate money to help with their upbringing.

Once the fostering period, which generally lasted 6 years, came to an end, the child was returned to their parents with the same cows as well as half of the income which it would have generated.  Therefore, the outcome was positive for the child and both families.

However, it has changed from being a custom to being a problem, as nowadays a foster home “is needed every 22 minutes”. This is the reason for the recent campaign by the Fostering Network” which estimates that 8,750 new foster families and carers are needed this year.

(Translated by Louise Jefferson  E-mail:

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