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Short-term foster care. Now we can prove it is successful

Lumos voices

Short-term foster care. Now we can prove it is successful

Short-term foster care came into existence in the Czech Republic in 2013. With a new law, the government created professional foster-carers to achieve a key aim – offering an alternative family-based form of care for vulnerable babies and young children whose parents couldn’t cope and who would previously have been placed in institutions.

Potential carers’ private lives are checked and, if they are suitable, they are trained and registered as paid carers. We now have more than 400 short-term foster carers in the Czech Republic who have a duty to accept a child into emergency care at all times. They look after the child or children for a maximum of one year, during which a permanent placement for the child is sought. Some children go back to their own families and for some, long-term foster care or adoption is arranged.

Knowing what we do about the harm caused to child development by institutionalisation, Lumos welcomed this development. Indeed, we supported the government create the new law. Some media commentators and politicians also reacted positively.

But for nearly three years other elements of the media, and some politicians, have made a number of allegations and negative assertions about short-term foster care. Some people have been deeply opposed to the system and even want it to be scrapped.

They claim temporary foster care is a ‘business’ and carers only do the work because of money. These critics it isn’t possible to find a permanent solution for children in temporary foster care within a year, so the children often have to go to an institution or to another short-term carer. I hear very often, even from my friends, that it is an easy job – you sit at home and draw your salary regardless whether you have a child in your care or not. ‘A nice and easily earned income’, according to a friend of mine, who said he had heard that foster carers were recruited in large numbers from among the long-term unemployed at state employment offices.

I know many foster carers and I know problems they face. Why is the child crying incessantly? Why is he or she afraid of people? What has the little one been through? What can I do for this child? That’s why I and other have always argued against the negative assertions. But we had one difficulty. We didn’t have the research evidence to back up our confidence in the new system.

Now, we do have that evidence, and it is pretty clear.

Lumos commissioned a detailed survey of temporary foster carers and got responses from 192 – or 45% of the national registered total. You can read the full survey report here.

A typical foster carer is a woman in her forties who has an above average education and has worked in a caring profession (in many cases, caring for and teaching children.) She lives in a household with her partner and, because she likes children, she decides to seize the opportunity of taking up a temporary foster carer job that she finds purposeful and interesting.

On average, temporary foster carers have a child in their care during 90% of the time they are paid. Children stay with them for an average of more than six months and a permanent family-based solution is found for an overwhelming majority (97%) of children. This includes a substantial number of children with special needs, such as post-natal alcohol and drug withdrawal systems. Critics have claimed, wrongly, that only institutions can care for such disadvantaged children.

Overall, foster carers are not unemployed people in search of easy living. They do it because they are fond of children and the children’s fate is not indifferent to them. And you know what? None of them learned about the possibility of becoming a foster carer at the state unemployment office. (In fact, ironically, given media claims about employment office ‘recruitment’, many women learned about foster care in the media!).

The survey report does not suggest things cannot be improved. But the findings show short-term foster care is an effective – and cost-efficient - system which serves children well. Reducing pay for carers, or paying only for the time a foster carer actually has a child in her or his care, would undermine the quality of care.

The vulnerable children of the Czech Republic would be better served by intensifying work to support biological families to keep their children – and, where that it not possible, identifying and registering more short-term and long-term foster carers of the calibre we have seen in this survey.