22 Apr 2010

Foster carers to access Open University training

A NEW PARTNERSHIP between The Open University (OU) and the Fostering Network will support foster carers with their professional development by providing access to a unique range of courses and opportunities for attaining formal qualifications.

The agreement, signed this week by the two organisations, gives foster carers the opportunity to broaden their knowledge so they can deliver the best possible care for fostered children.

Foster carers can choose from a wide range of courses, depending on their needs and experience. They can focus on a single introductory topic such as healthcare, nutrition and psychology, or combine them towards a formal qualification including undergraduate degrees in child care and health and social care.

The partnership follows research by the Fostering Network showing that four-fifths of foster carers would like to improve their skills and over two-thirds have asked their fostering service to provide more training. Moreover, three-quarters of foster carers have turned down training in the past because they were unable to secure child care, the location was hard to reach or it was scheduled at an inconvenient time.

The OU’s distance learning approach – supported ‘open learning’ – removes many of the barriers to professional development and enables more foster carers to access professional training alongside the demands of looking after the children in their care.

Robert Tapsfield, chief executive of the Fostering Network, said: “Foster carers, like other professionals, need access to ongoing learning and development opportunities. However, we know that traditionally foster carers have found it difficult to find and attend suitable courses that fit in with their fostering work. This partnership will remove barriers and make it easier for more foster carers across the UK to access formal academic training and qualifications, helping them to develop their skills and abilities in looking after vulnerable children.”

Professor David Vincent, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Strategy and External Affairs) at The Open University, said: “The partnering of the UK’s largest distance-learning provider and the leading fostering charity is invaluable as we both share the same vision to make education more accessible to the UK’s foster carers. The expertise of the Fostering Network and the flexibility to fit studies around a demanding role, the diverse range of courses and the support offered by the OU, means that together we can maximise the formal learning opportunities available to this vital group of people – opportunities that will enable them to deepen their knowledge and build their professional status.”

Rob Ford, a foster carer who has completed an MSc in psychology with the OU, said: “Completing my MSc has given me fascinating insights into why children from very difficult backgrounds can behave as they do. It's been invaluable – in fact, I'd say that it's kept us in fostering – because at the most challenging times having that understanding has made it easier to cope."

Notes to editors
1. More information about the partnership and programme of courses with the Open University is available at

2. The Fostering Network’s report on learning and development opportunities for foster carers, Learning as they go, is available for download at

3. Over 43,000 foster families look after 53,000 fostered children on any one day in the UK. An estimated 10,000 more foster families are needed.

4. The Fostering Network is the UK’s leading charity for all those involved in fostering, and aims to make life better for fostered children and the families that care for them. It has offices in Belfast, Cardiff, Glasgow and London.

5. The Open University (OU) is the largest academic institution in the UK and a world leader in flexible distance learning. Since it began in 1969, the OU has taught more than 1.5 million students and has more than 250,000 current students learning in their own time using course materials, online activities and content, web-based forums and tutorials and through tutor groups and residential schools. The OU has been highly rated for teaching quality, and has been at the top of student satisfaction rankings in the National Student Survey since it was introduced in 2005.

6. Foster carers studying with the Open University may be entitled to financial assistance. For more information, go to

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