A report issued by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) back in February this year highlighted the challenges independent fostering and adoption agencies are facing when looking after sensitive personal information. Specifically, the sharing of data relating to the care and wellbeing of vulnerable children.
The ICO found a number of common problems including sending information insecurely between agencies and local authorities, and between carers and agencies. There was also a general lack of awareness, training and guidance, and a failure to encrypt sensitive personal information held on mobile devices, such as laptops and memory sticks.
John-Pierre Lamb, group manager in the ICO's Good Practice team, said at the time of the report release: "The work fostering and adoption agencies carry out is vital to helping some of the most vulnerable young people in society. Keeping their sensitive personal information secure must be recognised as an important part of this process and agencies must have the necessary safeguards in place to keep this information safe whether it's in the office, at home or on the road.
"The worst breaches of the Data Protection Act can lead to a monetary penalty of up to £500,000, but when you consider the sensitivity of the information this sector is responsible for, the human cost could be far more significant."
Since the report was published, Kasper Fostering has been involved in a number of working groups to consider how we - as an Agency and a whole sector - may be able to better meet the 8 data protection principles in our work. These state that personal information must:
Two Kasper staff members attended a working group at BAAF in March, comprising representatives from NAFP, Fostering Network and the DfE; we were one of two independent fostering providers invited to join the debate. The workshop explored common issues experienced by independent providers which included information contained within foster carer records and young people's diaries, DBS checks and confidentiality, sharing agency information and records with legal representatives, alongside overseas checks.
The Safe Network has also produced basic steps to safety, with key information on protecting children and young people's personal data. Balancing a child’s right to privacy with the need to work positively with their carers, this includes best practice advice surrounding the storage of records which includes:
BAAF and NAFP are working together to gather data in terms of current information sharing processes, and deliver training sessions to enable independent fostering agencies and the fostering and adoption sector as a whole to achieve best practice in this area.
Through our own record keeping and data protection training, policies and procedures Kasper Fostering is continuing to ensure staff, foster carers and children and young people are sharing information safely and securely. We also ensure children and young people know and understand their rights regarding personal information, and accessing their records, to know about their background and family history.
There comes a time naturally when our own children have grown up... but does that mean we're too old to care for children and young people at all?The answer is a resounding no. Legally there are no upper age limits to foster looked after children and young people. In fact many people come to fostering a little later in life after their own children have grown up, left home and even become parents themselves.Older foster carers can often bring considerable experience, stability, consistency and life skills to fostering, alongside a safe and secure home environment. Young people can benefit greatly from this calming, steadying influence.Grandparents who become foster carers can often also understand the need to maintain relationships with birth family members, which can be important for children’s sense of identity, security and belonging.Practical considerationsIrrespective of age and experience, to be a foster carer you must be in good health and physically able to take care of children in your own home.As with all applicants, we would discuss personal health and vitality with you, in relation to caring for a child or young person. For example, the physical nature of holding and carrying babies or chasing after toddlers may not be a day-to-day possibility.Age is also a factor when matching younger children for long-term or permanent placements: How old you will be when the child reaches 18 or 21 obviously forms a key part of the initial matching process.Many older foster carers will opt to look after an older child which can work very well. Older children and teenagers, despite having different behavioural challenges, may require less physical and direct care but need more guidance and advice about making the right life choices.Proof you're never too oldDaphne has been a Kasper foster carer for eight years. She was approved to foster with the Agency aged 58, and has never looked back, "Age doesn't worry me, and it didn't worry my parents either. I wanted to give young people a better life, and I felt inside that I really wanted to help."Daphne currently fosters two young people on a short term and a respite basis - one is 14, and the other 16. She also has a wonderfully close, growing family of her own including five birth children, 26 grandchildren and 13 great grandchildren (with more on the way!)Three young people she previously fostered now live nearby, and remain a big part of the family. It's clear that Daphne is a loving, caring role model - but what motivated her to foster in the first place?"You have to want to do it, and for the right reasons. Spare rooms and time are not what it's about - to foster, you need an over-riding mentality and devotion to love and care for others. Whatever your life, job or house situation, you need this quality first and foremost."Calling in lifeThe young people Daphne has fostered have all benefitted from having her extended family in their lives. Her grandchildren and great grandchildren have been fantastic role models for the young people she has looked after. From their strong school and work ethics, through to their good manners and style tips...And of course, having so many young people around has kept her young in mind, body and spirit. So what would Daphne say to any grandparents thinking about becoming foster parents? "It's not about your age - it's about your calling in life. You're only ever as young as you feel!"If you're thinking about becoming a foster carer, you can talk to our friendly, helpful team at Kasper. We're here to answer any questions you may have, before deciding whether fostering is right for you. Get in touch on 01227 275985 for an informal chat.