Funding announced for vulnerable families in England needs to go further
Last week the Government made an announcement about a package of support in England for vulnerable families. The Fostering Network welcomes the additional £302 million to create new Family Hubs in England and urges those local authorities implementing the Hubs to ensure that they provide early intervention to those children in foster care who need it, alongside their peers. We would, however, hope to see a universal offer of early intervention support across the country, rather than a limited offer only including 75 local authorities.
The £172 million announced to support care leavers - including £99.8 million for Staying Put; the scheme allowing young people to stay within foster care post-18 - reflects a continuation of existing programmes, rather than new measures to increase support for care leavers. Although we are pleased that Staying Put has a three-year funding settlement, allowing fostering services to plan accordingly, we are disappointed that the methodology for uprating the grant remains the same as previous years and has not taken into account current cost of living issues.
It has been well documented that this year, all families are facing unprecedented increases in their cost of living. This month, inflation is set to peak at around 8 per cent, energy price caps will jump, and National Insurance contributions rise. In 2020/21 extra funding was provided to deal with the challenges of Covid, many of which still remain, yet the additional funding does not. This is especially disappointing considering the findings of our State of the Nation 2021 survey, with 77 per cent of foster carers in England saying they experienced a drop in income as a result of supporting a Staying Put arrangement. Foster carers in England were more likely to experience a drop in financial support when supporting a young person post-18 than elsewhere in the UK. The lack of financial support available has a detrimental impact on the number of young people able to benefit from living in a nurturing family environment until age 21.
Our recommendation is that national minimum allowances should be introduced across the UK for post-18 arrangements, with such an allowance being sufficient to cover the cost of looking after a young person. Former foster carers should also receive a fee payment when in a Staying Put arrangement to recognise their skills and expertise. A fostering service respondent to our survey said: ‘Very few carers offer [Staying Put] due to the financial issues, so unless they have another bedroom and can continue to foster, most do not offer Staying Put. Young people’s needs do not stop just because they are 18 and carers should be able to continue and receive the same financial support.’
Without additional funding for Staying Put it is hard to see how the ‘extra help’ announced will be realised in order to give young people the best possible start to their adult lives. Since the beginning of the Staying Put scheme in 2014, there has been no review and implementation of the policy varies. We are therefore calling on government to complete a full cross-departmental review of Staying Put so the scheme can reach its full potential to transform how thousands of young people start adulthood.