Stable Homes Built on Love - One Year Later

Friday 2 February 2024 marked a year since the government’s publication of Stable Homes Built on Love (SHBL). The strategy sets out the government’s plans for reforming children’s social care in England. It was released as a response to the recommendations from multiple high-profile reviews produced in 2022 on children’s social care, including those in the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, led by Josh MacAlister. See our responses to the review.  

One year ago, we warmly welcomed the strategy’s commitments which put fostering at the heart of the children’s social care system and the range of improvements it promised to make. Foster care has been overlooked and underfunded for too long, even though foster carers provide stable and loving homes for 70 per cent of children in care. 

Since then, we have been working with the government on aspects of the implementation of this strategy, such as the rollout of the Mockingbird programme in the recruitment and retention clusters.  

One year on, we take a look at the progress made so far and what still needs to be achieved.  

Investment in fostering 

In December 2023, the government announced another £8.5 million for fostering which brings the total funding for fostering for 2023-25 to £36 million. This is an unprecedented amount. However, the Independent Care Review called for a £2 billion investment into children’s social care, but the government only committed £200 million in Stable Homes Built on Love until 2025. After decades of underfunding in children’s social care and early intervention, there is still a lot more investment required to ensure that all care experienced children and young people can be supported to thrive. 

The recruitment and retention clusters 

The Department for Education (DfE) is developing ten recruitment and retention clusters in regions across the country, due to launch in May, including the North East Fostering Pathfinder (a pilot cluster - Foster with North East) which launched in September 2023. The clusters will fundamentally redesign the journey of the prospective foster carer from the moment of initial contact through to becoming a foster carer, providing support through each stage of the journey with the aim of increasing the number of foster carers in the system, both new and retained.  

Each cluster will be made up of a group of local authorities in a particular region and will vary in size.  

We hope these clusters will deliver the extra 6,000 foster carers that we have estimated are needed in England over the next year. Our recent research on the recruitment and retention of foster carers recommended that diverse prospective foster carer populations are targeted by recruitment marketing and communications, and are child-focused. They should also communicate the complexity and reality of the foster carer role and support and showcase the difference foster carers can make to children and young people. 

New Mockingbird constellations 

The DfE is aiming for 200 Mockingbird constellations to be in place across England by 2025, after funding 97 new constellations as part of the recruitment and retention clusters. These will strengthen peer-support, learning and development and community-based care for more families across England. Each cluster will have a Mockingbird constellation if they don’t already. We are really pleased to see this level of investment into Mockingbird, making England the leading provider of the programme. There is a lot of evidence that demonstrates that participation in a Mockingbird constellation improves the retention of foster carers and the well-being of care experienced children.   

However, we believe Mockingbird is just one part of a solution to retaining more foster carers. The model addresses key issues such as peer support and stability, but it is not able to overcome all the wider problems contributing to foster carers leaving such as the inadequate funding framework and the lack of support foster carers experience within fostering services.  

Our Mockingbird team is continuing to work alongside the recruitment and retention programme to explore new innovations to strengthen the implementation and sustainability of Mockingbird.


More recently, the government has launched the Fosterlink service which will work with local authorities not involved in the clusters to analyse practice, identify areas for improvement for the recruitment of foster carers and share best practice on a national level. We would like to see a coherent plan for implementation to ensure synergy and that a two-tier system does not develop between the local authorities in Fosterlink and the clusters. 

Delegated authority  

We are delighted that the government committed to introducing delegated authority by default in their strategy and are now in the early stages of exploring how it can be achieved. This is a great step forward after many foster carers told us they wanted to see it happen. For children in care to have the best possible experience, foster carers should be empowered to take appropriate and timely decisions about the children in their care. The updated guidance or legislation should follow child-focused policy and practice and foster carers should be given the maximum appropriate powers to take decisions relating to children in their care from the outset of the placement. 

What’s missing? 

When this strategy was first published, our blog “What’s missing from the Government’s strategy ‘Stable Homes, Built on Love’?” outlined the critical aspects of fostering which were not in Stable Homes Built on Love.  

These included: 

  • Fees 
  • Allegations 
  • A national register of foster carers 
  • Learning and development frameworks 

We continue to campaign on these issues, as they must be addressed if we are to truly tackle the recruitment and retention crisis in foster care. 

What the government should do next to achieve the goals of SHBL 

We are excited by the potential for learning from this huge investment in the recruitment and retention of foster carers. This includes our call for a more consistent fostering package for foster carers across the clusters which we hope will lead to a country-wide offer for recruitment and retention, based on the learning from the clusters and Fosterlink. This fostering package should include a national fostering allowance and consistent fees and benefits so that foster carers do not face a postcode lottery and to encourage collaboration between services and help reduce competition.

More consistency will also ensure that a two-tier system does not develop across the UK for foster carers and local authorities. We would also like to see Mockingbird available in every local authority across the UK for the families that want to be part of it.   

We will continue to work with the government to deliver the aims of their strategy to ensure all children in foster care are able to experience the stable loving homes they deserve. 

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