No national shortage of foster carers, finds review

Fostering stocktake refutes suggestion there is a national shortage of foster carers

Published on 9th February 2018

The suggestion that there is a national shortage of foster carers is a misconception, a review of fostering has stated.

The fostering stocktake conducted by Sir Martin Narey and Mark Owers found that in fact there are 16,000 fostering households with no child living there.

“However, the shortages are down to geography or the availability of carers who can look after more challenging children which means that too often, matches are made between carers and children that are not ideal and, after a short period, the child has to be moved again,” said the report.

The independent review of fostering calls for a national register of foster carers to better match children and foster parents. It states that currently matching is supply led in fostering unlike in adoption where it is more needs led. Research suggests that in as many as half of all placements, the social worker has no choice at all when choosing carers. While it is not always possible to respond to a child’s wishes when making a match with carers, more can be done to involve them and prepare them for moving in with a new family, said the report.

The majority of the children in care – 75% - are fostered and there were 53,420 children in foster care in March 2017. While most children’s welfare improves when they go into care, the care system as a whole tends to have an “undeservedly poor reputation,” largely due to the disparity in educational results of children in care in comparison to the general population. However, the review highlights that this comparison is unhelpful as it does not allow for the abuse, neglect and trauma experienced by many children in care or for the increased likelihood of special educational needs of children in the care system.

The review highlights that while fostered children do not feel they have a voice, they are generally positive about their experience. Ninety seven per cent said they had a trusted adult in their lives while more children in care than in the general population felt safe.

The review rejects the suggestion that foster carers should be seen as professionals with a similar status to social workers. However, it concedes that foster carers do need to be treated professionally and should be able to make decisions for their foster children around issues such as whether they need their hair cut without having to get permission.

While the law changed in 2011 and stated that foster children should only have contact with birth families if it was in their best interests, this has yet to filter into practice, the report highlights. Similarly, there is the assumption that siblings should be placed together where possible whereas in some instances siblings would be better placed in separate placements, said the review.

It calls for better commissioning arrangements and local authorities should come together to purchase or ‘bulk buy’ placements from IFAs at a reduced cost. The review also says local authorities should be able to scrap the role of IROs after it found little evidence to recommend the role. The funding, it suggests, could be ploughed into frontline services.

The review concludes that the government should be striving for permanence in placements that stretch beyond the child’s 21st birthday and most families would with their children.

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said: “All children, including those in foster care, need and deserve the love, care and support of a family. I welcome this review of fostering which shines a light on what being in foster care feels like for a child.

“I support many of the report’s recommendations, including giving clearer guidance to help foster carers so they know they are allowed to give their foster children physical affection like hugs and kisses, if the child wants them. I also support plans to give foster carers more freedom to make day to day parenting decisions.

“We know from the foster children we speak to that what they dislike most is the instability in the system and the stigma associated with being looked after. So we need to see the Government and local authorities prioritise stability of placement for children in care and for foster children to be treated like any other child and receive the same opportunities as others.

“However, I do not support the recommendations to remove Independent Reviewing Officers. We know from cases referred to our advice service Help at Hand that IROs often raise the alarm about a child’s situation that needs help to resolve.

“There are 70,000 children in the care of the state and they have faced more challenges in their short lives than most of us will ever know. The majority will live with foster families who have the immense responsibility to provide the secure and loving environment they need to help them recover and flourish. The Government’s ambitions for those children should be high and this report provides an opportunity for Ministers to do all they can to build a world-class foster system – loving, secure, stable and aspirational, with children’s voices at its heart. They must take it.”

Foster care in England



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