CEO Sarah Thomas highlights urgent need for more foster carers at Education Select Committee


The Fostering Network gave oral evidence to the Education Select Committee on Tuesday 16 April based on the extensive written evidence and research we submitted earlier this year. Sarah Thomas, our CEO, who has more than 20 years’ experience in children’s social care and working directly with fostering families, represented The Fostering Network and reflected the experience of our foster carer members. Sarah was part of a panel which included the CEOs of Adoption UK and Kinship.  

Sarah drew attention to the national crisis happening in foster care, focusing on three key points:  

  • Foster carers are a critical but small group of people and we need more, as the number of children coming into care increases.  
  • Too many children are being placed out of area, far from vital family connections, their siblings and schools.  
  • We need more foster carers, in the right place, at the right time, to meet the needs of children who cannot remain with their birth family.  

Sarah said there is an urgent need to turn the tide in the next 12 months otherwise more children, who should be looked after by fostering families, will have to be cared for in residential provision or in unregulated placements, which aren’t in their best interests.  

Sarah called on the committee to make three recommendations in their final report: 

1. Create a recruitment and retention strategy  

The government must develop a recruitment and retention strategy which ensures that foster carers feel valued as a key part of the children’s social care workforce. This strategy must address the reasons they are leaving the role, provide a skills-based learning and development framework, and ensure financial compensation is able to cover both the full costs of caring for a child and foster carers’ expertise and skills. 

2. Create a national register for foster carers  

The committee expressed  interest in a national register which would increase the status of foster carers in the team around the child, overcome the barriers of re-approval when foster carers move between fostering services, and provide more robust safeguarding measures and oversight in the fostering sector. 

3. Ensure every child can nurture and maintain positive, lifelong, trusting relationships with their family. 

2023 data from the Department of Education showed that in England alone, 21 per cent of children were moved over 20 miles from home, 37 per cent were separated from their siblings, and one third of children in residential care had foster care on their care plan when they came into care. Sarah made it clear to the committee that there needs to be more widespread changes to address this as every child deserves to live in safe, stable, nurturing and loving homes. Foster carers provide children with stability, security, attachment and it can be their first positive experience of family life. 

Sarah ended by asking the committee to prioritise action and to properly fund any future interventions. She urged the committee to take evidence from foster carers directly, highlighting the importance of including the voices of foster carers in the inquiry.  

The Fostering Network is committed to enabling foster carers to have their voices heard by decision makers. Our upcoming State of the Nation survey plays a crucial part in this process, it ensures that we have the evidence base to prove to governments across the country that there is an urgent need for the changes we are campaigning for. We will be opening the survey in the next few weeks and urge as many foster carers and fostering services as possible to complete the survey and make their opinions known.  

The education select committee also released a survey last week aimed at care leavers of all ages to ask about the help they received whilst in care and the types of accommodation they lived in, such as foster care, kinship, residential or adoption. The survey will form part of the committee’s ongoing inquiry into children’s social care. Take part in their survey here: 

You can watch the oral evidence session here, read the transcript of the oral evidence session here, and read the written evidence we submitted to the committee here.