Thousands of new foster carers urgently needed in England, experts say

Started by LifeOfPi, Jun 04, 2024, 07:15 PM

Previous topic - Next topic


Thousands of new foster carers urgently needed in England, experts say

Social workers scrambling to find places for children after net loss of 1,000 foster families in past year

Child protection experts have called for an urgent nationwide hunt for thousands of new foster carers after a net loss of 1,000 families in the past year and a record number of children being placed far from home.  Social workers have described scrambling to find friends and family to take children in urgent need of safety, and reported that children are sometimes placed in hotels.  Foster placements at least 20 miles outside county boundaries are up 20% since 2019, figures show. It is estimated that 6,000 new foster families were needed in England to meet rising demand.  "We need a lot more foster carers," said John Pearce, the president of the Association of Directors of Children's Services. "You used to be able to get a place quickly for younger children. But in significant parts of the country that's not the case any more, and that's driven by a significant increase in the children coming into care."

In some cases, councils lacking local foster vacancies are sending children hundreds of miles away, breaking family and school ties. There has been a 7% increase in the number of children in care since 2019 in England. But in the past year almost twice as many households quit mainstream fostering than joined. Reasons cited include the rising cost of looking after children and older foster parents choosing to quit after the pandemic.  A social worker in a fostering team at a Midlands council said that in the most urgent cases, where police have determined that a child must be immediately removed from their home for their safety, "we often have mad scrambles to see if a foster carer can possibly take another child or if a child has relatives".

The team has sent children hundreds of miles away to Scotland, Wales and London because no local foster families were available. "The cost to all of us, and the young person, is huge," the social worker said.

A head of year at a secondary school in Cornwall, where pupils are being affected by the shortage, said: "It's unsettling enough for a young person to know they are being removed from their family, without the added uncertainty and fear of being placed in an unfamiliar county far from every relationship they have ever formed."

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said: "We are taking a wide range of action to support new and existing foster parents by raising financial allowances above inflation and reducing tax rates to ensure they have more money in their pocket."

The department is launching a £27m recruitment and retention programme, which began in September in the north-east, where demand has soared, and will spread to more than half of England's local authorities from next April.  Kate Lawson, the director of external affairs at the Fostering Network charity, welcomed the initiative, but said: "It needs to go further and faster because children right now are not being placed where is right for them."

Inflation, including rising housing costs, has squeezed the budgets provided to foster carers, and Tay Jiva, who runs Sparks Fostering, an agency in Manchester, has calculated that the typical foster family spends about 20 hours a week on administration, meetings and training, such that their effective earnings are £10 an hour below the "national living wage".  Al Coates, who runs a fostering agency in London, says he has councils as far away as Derbyshire and Cornwall asking for help. He described social workers having to "ring round Auntie, neighbours and scout leaders saying, 'Have you got room for a couple of nights?'  We need to have a supply of foster carers that is sufficient for the demand. Family is often the best, but is not always best. We should be in a position where the social worker has an option."