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New strategies for fostering

From registration to professional training of foster parents, Scotland plans to make its care system one of the best in the world young people could be allowed to stay in foster care beyond the age of 18 under plans that will shape fostering for the next two decades.

Details of the National Fostering and Kinship Care strategy were revealed last week by Hugh Henry, the Education Minister.

The strategy outlines plans for the registration and standardised payment of foster carers. It is also intended to improve recruitment and retention by providing extra support to these carers.

"This is an important milestone for both foster and kinship care in Scotland," said Bryan Ritchie, director of The Fostering Network Scotland.

"The plans outlined in the strategy could make a real difference to the lives of thousands of children in care in Scotland.

"We are particularly pleased to see that the Government has listened to the Network's campaign messages and has included draft proposals for allowing teenagers to stay with their foster carers beyond the age of 18, which would offer massive benefits for many young people who are currently forced out before they are ready."

Mr Ritchie also welcomed the inclusion of registration for foster carers, and recognition of the need to improve ways of investigating allegations against foster carers.

"We urge the executive to set a national allowance at the Network's recommended rates, ensuring all carers are able to look after fostered children without having to worry about expenses or continually paying out from their own pockets."

Young people, their foster parents and kinship carers are being asked to go online and give their opinions of the plans.

"We want every child to have a safe, stable and secure home environment to give them the best start in life," said Mr Henry. "Our foster and kinship carers already play a vital role in supporting and shaping those who will go on to shape Scotland's future. We must guarantee the support we give our looked-after children, and those who look after them, is of the highest standard. That's why we are asking those who know best of all to tell us how we can make the Scottish care system the best in the world."

Figures released this year showed that 3,731 children and young people in Scotland were cared for by foster carers, while 1,726 were living with friends or relatives. The Fostering Network estimates that a further 1,700 foster families are needed in Scotland.

The TESS last month reported Mr Ritchie's concern about the country's ageing population of foster carers which he described as a "time bomb" - the average age is 49. He said they were the least well-trained, most isolated and lowest-paid workers in childcare. The foster care workforce needs to be more professional, he suggested.

Consultation on the National Fostering and Kinship Care Strategy runs until February 16. Nicola's story Nicola McDade is proof that young people in care can go on to achieve high educational attainment and fulfilled lives. Now 22, Nicola is completing a masters degree in screen studies, having graduated with honours in economic and social history and television studies from Glasgow University.

But she would be the first to say that the key to her success was a long-term stable placement with her foster parents. Nicola entered the care system when she was six months old and, up until the age of six, went in and out of care, including 18 months in a children's unit. Then, she and one of her brothers were placed in foster care (he has entered training to be a social worker).

Initially, she thought foster care would be for only a few months as she expected to be adopted. But the placement turned out to be long-term - 17 years' long.

Nicola now realises that her teachers would have been informed of her family circumstances and says that she had "a normal education because I had a stable family life".

In recent years, she has been involved in the promotion of foster care as part of a recruitment drive by Glasgow City Council. She helped organise the council's "What Works for Us" conference earlier this year, which celebrated the achievements of looked-after children and young people as well as their carers.

Nicola's advice to teachers is: "Don't stigmatise looked-after children.

Don't make them feel different. I never wanted to feel different; I just wanted to be normal. Offer extra support if it's necessary."

Photograph:Chris James

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