There is a huge shortage of foster carers in England, and the University of Worcester has undertaken a research project to find out why Disabled people are excluded from fostering. 

This webinar presents findings which include a short video illuminating the key ethical and pragmatic issues in this neglected area of equal opportunities. 

The university worked alongside Shaping Our Lives Disabled people’s and service user network and the Foster Care Co-operative, and initially covered four fostering services across statutory, private and charitable sectors. The project was co-produced and followed an ’Action Research’ model, changes in policy and practice being made as issues came to light. 

One agency dropped out of the project after a takeover, the new management not supporting the project. The project was funded by DRILL (Disabled Research into Independent Living and Learning) and the Big Lottery and was undertaken between 2018 and 2020. 

Many barriers were found to exist regarding Disabled people becoming foster carers, even though many Disabled people have their own children and have a wide range of life skills. The barriers included discriminatory attitudes held by professionals, a lack of clarity about medical fitness, a lack of role models and uncertainty around benefits eligibility. 

It was very challenging to get many fostering agencies and Disabled people’s organisations interested in this project, which we saw as a ‘win-win’ opportunity – Disabled people will be able to step into employment, children needing care will have a greater choice of placement and the recruitment gap will be greatly reduced. 

The research team made progress across the four pilot sites and via wider media exposure, managing to interview twelve Disabled foster carers who are living proof that Disabled people can successfully foster. Alison said: 

… as a Disabled foster carer, I would have never expected to be matched with a child with complex needs. I expected to maybe have to wait a while for a placement and to only take easy placements maybe, but my agency haven’t been like that at all, which is again a credit to them ‘ 

Jon said: 

‘I have had two children living with me since they were very young and they just see disabled people as people. This is what inclusion brings-natural equality.’ 

It is hoped that webinars such as this ExChange initiative will help disseminate the project’s findings across the UK . Highlighting success stories such as Alison’s and Jon’s should encourage both fostering agencies and Disabled people to embrace the great potential in Disabled people as foster carers. The University of Worcester is seeking new funding to continue the project, has been commissioned by national fostering body, CoramBAAF, to write a practice guide on Disabled foster carers and plans to offer training for foster agencies in this neglected area. 

Presenters: Dr Peter Unwin, University of Worcester and Becki Meakin, Shaping Our Lives