UK fostering system unsustainable, charity warns

A report by the Fostering Network has warned that the UK’s fostering system is under ‘unsustainable strain’, and is only being held together by the ‘goodwill and commitment’ of foster carers.

The Fostering Network’s comment comes in the State of the Nation’s Foster Care 2016 report, which collated the opinions of more than 2,500 UK foster carers.

State of the Nation’s Foster Care 2016 outlined that: the proportion of foster carers who would definitely recommend fostering to others had fallen from 66 per cent in 2014 to 55 per cent in 2016; a third of foster carers felt that children’s social workers did not treat them as an equal member of the team; only 42 per cent of foster carers felt their allowance covered the full cost of looking after fostered children - compared with 80 per cent in 2014.

It also warned that a third of foster carers described out of hours support as could be better or poor and 31 per cent of foster carers reported that they were rarely or never given all the information about a fostered child prior to their arrival.

Kevin Williams, chief executive of The Fostering Network’s, explained: “We know that foster care works, and that foster carers, together with many social workers and others in the system, do an amazing job in helping children transform their lives.

However, the message that this report clearly sends is that foster carers find themselves working within – and sometimes, against - a system which is challenging and, at times, counterproductive. That is why only just over half of foster carers, despite their pride in and commitment to fostering, would be definitely willing to recommend the role to others.

“Stability – of home, education and relationships – is such a defining factor when it comes to fostered children’s outcomes, and a satisfied, well supported foster carer workforce is an essential element of this stability. This report identifies a number of areas, such as insufficient foster carers’ finances, not being treated as part of a team, and a lack of training and support, which must be addressed.  

“Our fear is, that with austerity biting, the cracks within the fostering system are only likely to get bigger, and – for the sake of the stability and outcomes of tens of thousands of children fostered each year – this cannot be allowed to happen. 

“For the sake of current and future generations of looked after children, real change is needed, and it is needed now.”

Responding to the report, Cllr Richard Watts, chair of the Local Government Association's Children and Young People's Board said: "Councils take their responsibilities towards children in care and foster families extremely seriously, making difficult choices in other budget areas to enable them to increase spending on looked-after children services by £173.1 million last year, despite significant budget cuts by central government.

"However, demand is increasing significantly, with a 60 per cent rise in the number of children on child protection plans since 2008 and a need for an additional 9,000 foster families in this year alone. We cannot ignore the fact that it will become increasingly difficult to maintain this level of financial support in the face of this rising demand, and with a £1.9 billion funding gap projected for children's services in just three years' time.

"The actions of some independent fostering agencies, which can charge councils more than double the cost of in-house placements while making substantial payouts to shareholders, saw more than £40 million diverted away from services for vulnerable children and into the profits of just eight independent agencies in 2014-15. We strongly believe that this money would have been better spent on improving services for foster carers across the country.”