UK’s fostering system under ‘unsustainable strain’, top fostering charity warns

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The UK’s fostering system is under ‘unsustainable strain’ and is being held together by the goodwill and commitment of thousands of dedicated foster carers, leading fostering charity The Fostering Network is warning today (Tuesday 31 January 2017). This risks undoing the hard-won improvements in raising the aspirations and achievements of fostered children, undermining the terms, conditions and recruitment of foster carers, and increasing long-term societal and financial costs.

The warning comes with the publication of the charity’s second State of the Nation’s Foster Care report, based on a survey of over 2,500 UK foster carers, the largest of its kind. The report highlights 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
  • a third of foster carers described out of hours support as could be better or poor
  • 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.

In addition, the top three things that foster carers would choose to change to help them improve the lives of the young people they care for were: improving communication and support from their fostering service; being treated more as a professional; and better financial support.

These findings follow a report from The Fostering Network in early 2016 which warned that the wellbeing of children living in foster care was under threat from the impact of cuts in Government funding to local authority budgets in England.

Kevin Williams, The Fostering Network’s chief executive said: ‘This report paints a picture of a fostering system which is under unsustainable strain and which is being held together by the goodwill and commitment of thousands of dedicated foster carers. After many decades of campaigning for improvements to the fostering system, we are now seeing – perhaps for the first time – an erosion of those hard-won gains. We cannot allow this to continue.

‘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 decades fostering has benefited from a dedicated, committed and expert workforce of foster carers who spend their days and years helping fostered children transform their lives. We believe that the State of the Nation report acts as a warning to governments across the UK that this dedication should not be taken for granted any longer. For the sake of current and future generations of looked after children, real change is needed, and it is needed now.”

The findings of the report will form the basis of the charity’s oral evidence which it will be giving to the England education committee’s fostering inquiry tomorrow (Wednesday 1 February).