Sunday, August 03, 2014


In the past, if my memory is correct, almost everything that got done at work was done with two vague hopes; one, that it was worth doing, and two, that it got done properly. Then you moved on to the next thing. There wasn't much target and measurement at work or at least nowhere near as much as today. Not at work. School however was all about target and measurement. We number-stamped children as they prepared to leave school for work, a child was maybe "Two A Levels, a B and a D" or "One O Level, metalwork grade four".

Today there's a wealth of data about work (and play) that gets crunched into results and presented in all sorts of ways. Graphs and pie charts may be a bit old hat but every time someone fires up the power point you know you're in for some graphically digitised numbers. 

Numbers are safe, they're a closed shop. If the numbers say that; 

"In 1914 the average life expectancy was 45. By 2014 the figure had risen to 78"

It's game over. No argument. Modern adults can expect to live 70% longer than 100 years ago. Fact.

The thing is; some things are easy to measure, other things are next-to-impossible. Or are they? There was a survey out this week that asked people how long it took them in a relationship to say:"I love you". The results were that the Welsh were quickest: 68 days on average. The English were the slowest: 120 days.

It seems that measurements nowadays can even be taken about something that's as elusive and private as love.

As a foster carer I'd love to know the numbers about whether fostering works. Why do I want to know the numbers? I'd just like to drop it into conversation with myself, with my family and friends, with foster children where appropriate. I'd like the real parents to know that it's proven to help their children, whether they like it or not. I'd like courts and judges and local authorities to know that what we do is concrete, verified, rubber stamped, quality controlled, trade-marked, bona fide. A scientific fact. 

If 8 out of 10 cats can be found to prefer Whiskas why can't foster parents have a similar factoid to run with?

It's possible that having data about what techniques and approaches work best in fostering compared to things that have mixed success will help us be better foster carers.

There are some numbers out there about fostering: the number of children living with foster carers (50,900 at March 2013). Their gender, age and ethnicity. What other type of care is being given (6,000 are in secure units).

But does fostering work? Does it improve the chances of a child becoming a rounded individual? Does it improve society as a whole?

I seem to remember this being touched on at several Blue Sky training sessions and support meetings. Disappointingly, all that's known about whether fostering works is that many foster children don't escape the clutches of their early problems and end up in trouble in their later lives. We foster carers are re-assured that this is no reflection on what we do, it's down to the extent of the negatives that were absorbed before the child was offered help and protection. 

Plenty of fostered children end up okay, stay clear of trouble and do alright for themselves. 

I want to know if fostering helped the child and how it helped and how much it helped. Surely some attempt can be made to get those facts. 

You see I'm certain that fostering plays a big part in bettering everything around us. Fostering benefits the child, benefits their families, benefits society. Fostering benefits foster parents. 

But we don't have any numbers to go on. I know numbers aren't everything. I know they can be misleading even. For example, the numbers about life expectancy don't demonstrate that adults can expect to live any longer than they did 100 years ago, they actually show that about half of babies born a hundred years ago died during childhood. But the general message of optimism is still there.

Maybe the measurements and conclusions about fostering are out there but I've not stumbled on them.  

Or, more likely, the outcomes of fostering remain one of the few key human matters relatively untouched by target and measurement. Maybe a bit of an elephant in the room. Or maybe there's a fear that the numbers will suggest that fostering is hardly more than a holding operation rather than a healing one. A halfway house before the child goes on to even more troubled ways. But I don't believe they'd find that.

For example, once there was a little boy who was fostered and things turned out alright for him, to the extent that he's on his way to becoming the most important person who ever lived. Everyone has heard of him, half the world cannot speak his name without blessing his memory. Everything he said and did is famous and celebrated beyond imagination.

Yet, unless I'm very much mistaken, hardly a soul knows that the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was a foster child.


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