Recognition and support key to tackling foster carer shortage
Today’s BBC report Children in care in England could hit almost 100,000 by 2025 is a stark warning about the need to recruit and retain more foster carers.
Kevin Williams, CEO of The Fostering Network, says: ‘Recruitment and retention of high quality foster carers who can meet the needs of children in care is one of the biggest challenges facing the fostering sector today.
‘The evidence from our State of the Nation’s Foster Care survey (soon to be published) shows that foster carers choose to foster because they want to make a difference to the lives of children but find it increasingly difficult to make that positive difference when they do not have the tools that they need or the status that that the role requires.
‘It is our firm view that the status of foster care must be effectively tackled in order to address sufficiency. Foster carers should be a key member of the team around the child, with the right terms and conditions, including the authority and status to make decisions and pay which reflects their time, skills and expertise.
‘This would not in any way reduce the love and care that drives people to foster, but by recognising and valuing the role of the foster carer we will improve the care and outcomes for children and young people. ‘With around three quarters of all children in care living with fostering families the recruitment and retention of foster carers must be made a priority at a national level in terms of focus and funding. None of the £4.8bn from the government to maintain “vital frontline services” has been earmarked for foster care.
‘I was also pleased to hear Tim Oliver, Chairman of the County Councils Network, highlighting, during an interview with Radio 4’s Today programme, that foster care is “cheaper [than residential care], but more importantly outcomes for the child are much better”.
‘The Fostering Network identified a need for at least 7,300 new foster families in England this year which is far in excess of the net increase of just 1,005 carers in England from 1April 2020 – 31 March 2021, which Ofsted reported earlier this month. They also reported that 18% of all foster carers are family and friends foster carers who are typically only approved to care for specific children.
‘All children and young people in need of foster care should be placed with a foster family who is able to understand what that child needs to thrive, build relationships, learn and develop while supporting them to navigate the challenges that often come from being in care.
‘We all know that creating stable and loving environments for children in care is vital. Ensuring there are sufficient foster families, through both recruitment and retention strategies, should also be vital as this is key to securing good matching and stability.’
‘This does not negate the need for early intervention work with families which we welcome and would urge more investment in.
‘The Fostering Network has been running Step Up, Step Down in Northern Ireland since April 2016. The project implements support care which uses foster carers’ skills and expertise to support children and families on the edge of care to stay together. Independent evaluation of 28 of the households involved has found that it has been successful in reducing the number of children coming into care.
'We are calling on the Government to provide leadership and funding which enables effective needs led and targeted local recruitment of foster carers.
‘The Fostering Network supports its fostering services members with their recruitment and retention activity through initiatives such as Foster Care Fortnight, but more needs to be done at a national level to help services attract and keep carers to ensure no child has to miss out on a stable, loving home.’
Step Up, Step Down has supported 65 families comprising 149 children and 88 adults.
Independent evaluation of 28 of those households has found that it has been successful in: reducing the number of children coming into care; providing parents with the capacity, skills and knowledge to overcome adversity; creating safe, stable family relationships; connecting families to their communities and increasing the capacity of families to learn and grow together.