Vulnerable children at risk as England faces shortfall of 25,000 foster families

England faces a 25,000 shortfall in foster families over the next five years, amid complaints of a lack of support for existing carers and a broken system that pits councils against private agencies for potential candidates.

Around a fifth of foster households exit the system each year, leaving local councils and specialist agencies scrambling to recruit families just to keep the current levels.

Experts fear that local councils will face increasing pressure to place vulnerable children with families unsuitable for their needs, leading to them passing through several homes and becoming more unstable.

El año pasado, the children’s charity Barnardo’s warned of a “state of emergency” in the foster system, while local government sources have warned that a series of factors risk combining to cause a fresh crisis. Increased poverty as a result of the pandemic is likely to be exposed when children return to the classroom next month. The end of the ban on eviction is also a concern. And more foster placements will also be needed as the courts work through a backlog of hearings.

It will lead to a recruitment deficit of about 25,000 foster care families by 2026, according to analysis by the Social Market Foundation (SMF). Its research suggested that those deregistering as foster carers were concerned about the support they had received.

One carer, who had fostered for eight years, dicho: “This year, we are very likely to permanently resign. At the ages of 43 y 47, with many more years to offer care to children, we feel unable to continue. It saddens us both to face making this decision but, in an industry so ungoverned and self-regulated, in which foster carers are valued so low, we are likely to consider it the best option.”

Several councils have privately warned they are facing shortages that they have not encountered for years, or are being forced to pay ever higher rates to private agencies supplying foster carers.

“There is a shortage of foster carers, while more children are coming into our care,” said Edwina Grant, from the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS). “There has been a lack of focus and investment from government in this area. Local authorities across the country continue to invest in local and regional recruitment campaigns.

“ADCS members remain concerned about the significant profits being made by a small number of fostering organisations. We are concerned at the level of risk associated with the trend towards consolidation and the concentration of placements in the hands of a small number of providers.”

Anntoinette Bramble, chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said some councils had received more inquiries of interest. “Greater opportunities for some to work flexibly has also made fostering more viable," ella dijo. “While the number of children in care is continuing to grow, much of the challenge in finding children the best home for their needs lies not in the number of placements but types of placements available. We have called on the government to support a national recruitment campaign so that we can reach far more people who might be interested in fostering if they knew more about it, working with councils to ensure this can be tailored to local circumstances to maximise impact.”

Almost nine in 10 fosterers are currently aged over 40. But the SMF research suggests that younger carers could represent an under-utilised source of fostering places. Algunos 6% de 18- to 34-year-olds said they were considering fostering – that represents around 300,000 gente.

“The foster care system faces a recruitment crisis,” said Matthew Oakley, senior SMF researcher. “But it doesn’t need to be like this. Our work shows that many people would consider fostering, or returning to fostering, if they were given the right support and treated professionally. A new foster carer charter would be an important first step, ensuring nationally agreed minimum standards of support for foster carers, including respite and pay.”

Government officials said the Fosterline and Fosterline Plus services provided independent and free advice for foster parents and prospective foster parents. A spokesperson said: “We encourage more people to come forward so there are enough carers available to provide safe, loving homes for these children.

“Local authorities are responsible for all children in care in their area, including those in foster care. We have made significant additional funding available in response to changing pressures on children’s services, and during the pandemic we have made it easier for councils and fostering agencies to identify, assess and approve new foster carers to prevent delays in providing support to these children.”

A 23, Bryleigh Flack from London, is exactly the kind of foster carer that local councils are desperate to find – versatile, capable and willing to take in older children who can be harder to place. She is also an effusive advocate for fostering, but is honest about the challenges.

“I say this to everyone, there’s nothing more rewarding than when you see the things that you’re implementing come to life in your children," ella dijo. “You see it when their school results go up, and you’re seeing them come out of their shell and trust people and be confident.”

Her willingness to foster at a young age, ella dice, comes from her experience around fostering. “I have grown up in and around fostering families," ella dijo. “When you experience life in a fostering family, it gives you a totally different life experience. It really brings your house alive.

“It was never really a question to me. It just sort of became part of my life.”

She said that the initial process of becoming a foster carer was challenging. “It is a very in-depth process," ella dijo. “And, en el momento, I can remember getting quite frustrated at points, almost thinking, why is this relevant? But with what some children have been through, you do actually have to have a very tightly vetted process, because this isn’t for everyone.”

Flack said that she did feel supported and received training before taking on her first placement. She said that building a good relationship with her foster child’s social worker had been crucial in helping her to navigate the process. She believes that her age helped her to relate to the teenager in her care.

“I think our age plays an integral part, in that I can relate," ella dijo. “I can understand what she is going through. It’s nice to see her blossoming, that people are hearing and understanding her.”

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