Children’s social care market study: Response from The Fostering Network
We welcome the recommendations set out in the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) final report published yesterday that sets clearer expectations at a national, regional and local level in England, Scotland and Wales to ensure that all children in care are living in placements that meets all their needs.
The report identifies that the current markets in England and Wales, and to a lesser extent, Scotland, are not working well and that it will not improve without focused policy reform. It is important that Governments and the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care in England, The Promise in Scotland and Foster Wales take the findings of this report into consideration.
Improving commissioning through collaborative bodies and additional national support
We support the call for greater national leadership over fostering to support commissioning as well as other areas of practice. Governments should review their focus on fostering and ensure they have structures in place at a national, regional and local level to provide leadership, collaboration and a shared strategy to address issues such as sufficiency and drive improvements in performance of the fostering sector.
In The Fostering Network’s State of the Nation 2021 survey, the largest and most comprehensive survey of foster care in the UK, local authorities reported that the following would help improve their sufficiency planning:
- improving the data available
- improving multi-agency/stakeholder working
- having more placement availability
- better recruitment strategies
- national oversight.
We therefore support the call to Governments to set out what minimum level of activity must be carried out collectively. We believe key government departments should play a greater role in sufficiency planning in terms of providing the tools, guidance and training for children’s placing authorities to create meaningful sufficiency statements that are able to respond dynamically to the needs of children locally, drive recruitment planning and commissioning.
The recruitment and retention of foster carers
We support the need to recruit more foster carers so that every child or young person coming into care in need of a foster family will be placed with the best possible foster carers for them at the first time of asking.
While we support further work looking at the extent and causes of shortfalls in foster carers, our State of the Nation 2021 survey of nearly 3,500 foster carers and 99 fostering services provides an already existing strong evidence base of the issues currently hampering recruitment and retention. Fostering services reported:
- What they think prevents suitable applicants from enquiring to foster:
- people are put off by the process
- there is a lack of regular or guaranteed income (fee payment)
- people are put off by myths around fostering
- people do not have a spare bedroom.
- What they believe they could do to improve retention:
- better support including access to psychological support/therapy, out of hours support and having better relationships between social workers and foster carers
- better pay
- consistency of social workers.
We urge governments and local authorities to start addressing these issues now.
We believe the sector should consider tailored recruitment strategies for example, to recruit specifically for long-term foster carers who may only foster one child or a sibling group, providing them with lifelong permanency. We believe that fostering services should work together to make best use of the existing foster carer workforce, and to recruit only where there is a need. It is vital that recruitment campaigns in foster care happen at the local level and are based on local knowledge and robust forecasting.
We support the call for increased use of regional collaboration and a requirement on local authorities to be involved to support needs led and targeted recruitment to increase effectiveness and reduce duplication.
The Fostering Network strongly believes that retention is just as important as recruitment in foster care to ensure knowledge and expertise are maintained in the workforce. In our State of the Nation 2021 survey, both foster carers and fostering services agreed that improving the status of foster carers to ensure they are an equal member of the team around the child is the number one thing that will change fostering for the better. It is essential to recognise that foster carers have their own area of expertise, skills and tasks in the team around the child which need to be valued, recognised and supported.