Foster parents should be encouraged to show affection, and not discouraged says Sir Martin Narey, former chief executive of Barnardos, in a report on fostering for the Department for Education.

Sir Martin noted that some local authorities are highly prescriptive about what foster parents can and cannot do without permission. Too often, the report argues, foster parents are “thwarted from using sensible discretion when making day-to-day decisions about the child or children in their care”.

One aspect that seems to exemplify the tyranny of such rules are the guidelines that have the effect of prohibiting or inhibiting the normal physical contact and warmth that parents and carers show to children in their care. So foster parents may be advised against “playfighting” or giving cuddles or hugs that have not been explicitly permitted by the child. The result is that children who badly need affection are being denied it.

Ironically such prohibitions have arisen out of historical attempts to protect children from harm. For many years, as we now know, children were not adequately protected.

Foster parents should be encouraged to hug and kiss children they look after and be trusted to take day-to-day decisions for them, the report says.

The independent study found that foster families were often constrained by social workers whose default position was to try to return children quickly to their birth families. The author, Sir Martin Narey, former chief executive of Barnardo’s, said that in too many cases this was not in the child’s best interests.

Sir Martin’s recommendations included new government guidelines to “encourage and celebrate” physical contact between foster parents and children. Infants especially should be cuddled and kissed like other children without fear that the parent would be accused of acting inappropriately.

Although fostering regulations recommend that carers are physically affectionate to children, Sir Martin said that often foster parents said this was frowned upon and they feared being accused of abuse. One foster parent who blew a raspberry on a baby’s tummy while changing their nappy was told that such behaviour could be a safeguarding issue. Some local authorities issued rules warning foster parents, especially men, that physical contact could arouse “sexual expectations”.

The review concluded: “We believe that ensuring carers are confident in giving physical affection and comfort is vital to a healthy childhood and to making children feel like other children.”

Lee Hollins, Director of SecuriCare, says this report is welcome news, “we have long understood the power of touch and physical contact. It has an incredible role to play within the lives of fostered and adopted children, especially those recovering from chaotic early life experiences. Of course we all understand also the need for safeguards, but when those safeguards block care and love they are not safeguards at all…”

SecuriCare offer a range of courses designed to enable support workers, carers and foster families to best respond to any ‘Challenging Behaviour’ that may occur. All programmes are finalised after full training needs analysis and delivered by experienced frontline practitioners. Click to see our ‘Preventing & Managing Challenging Behaviour’ Course which includes ‘Positive Behaviour Management’ techniques designed to minimise the need for any kind of restrictive intervention. You can also take a look at our person centred Behaviour Planning Service.

Contact us for more information and to discuss your needs: E: trainers@securicare.com or T: 01904 492442

For the full story visit the Times, for the full report visit the Dept. of Education