Register of foster carers

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The Fostering Network is calling for the introduction of a national register of foster carers in each of the four countries of the UK.

The issue

The Fostering Network believes that the introduction of a register of foster carers in each of the four countries of the UK – something we have long called for – would address three current issues in the fostering system:

  • The need to increase the status of foster carers in the team around the child.
  • The difficulty of foster carers moving from one service to another.
  • The need for more robust safeguarding measures in the fostering sector.
     

To be clear, we are not talking about placement matching or fostering recruitment registers, both of which we believe are local activities and are best carried out by local authorities/trusts and fostering services. 

We believe that a national register of foster carers in each nation is an essential first step to achieving an improvement in foster carer terms and conditions through allowing increased portability of the workforce and increasing public protection by having a central list of all who meet, and continue to meet, the requirements of being an approved foster carer. 

To share your views about the introduction of national registers and The Fostering Network's approach outlined below, email policy@fostering.net.

Increased status

We believe a national register of foster carers in each nation would improve the formal status of foster carers to allow the role to be more recognised and valued within the sector and by the general public. It would also bring foster carers in line with other parts of the children’s workforce who are registered and regulated. We also believe making it easier for foster carers to move services would help drive up standards in terms of the support, training and respect given to foster carers. In line with other parts of the children’s workforce, the introduction of a register would need to go hand in hand with an accredited pre- and post-approval training framework.

Portability

In order to work as a foster carer an individual or members of the household who are ‘sharing the care’ of the child have to be assessed and approved by a registered fostering service. These can be local authorities/children’s trusts or independent fostering providers.

While foster carers are self-employed for taxation purposes, they can only foster for one fostering service at a time (except in Scotland under certain circumstances). Moving to another fostering service usually requires foster carers to fully repeat the same approval and assessment process again, which severely reduces their portability. Transfer protocols, which are currently non-enforceable, are in place in parts of the UK but foster carers report difficulties in moving between fostering services, especially when children are in placement. 

In The Fostering Network’s State of the Nation 2019 report, the majority of respondents (80 per cent) had never moved to another fostering service. Only seven per cent of foster carers had moved to another service with an additional two per cent in the process of moving. Of those foster carers who had moved or were in the process of moving, 93 per cent had to re-do the approval process. Significantly, 11 per cent of respondents had wanted to move but had not moved for a variety of reasons, including concerns about disrupting the child’s current placement, and the overly bureaucratic transfer process which means they could be without children and income for a significant period.

A national register would greatly enhance portability of the foster care workforce by providing a national licensing approach in each country. When a foster carer decided to move to another fostering service the new fostering service would be able to carry out a simple check of the national register to confirm their approval status and then would only need to carry out local checks and interviews. This system would be less bureaucratic, reducing duplication and delays. It would also place appropriate decisions with the fostering service – deciding if the carer met the needs of their service rather than making decisions on suitability to foster which have already been ascertained through the approval process. It could also aid in retaining good quaility foster carers which is important considering that there is a nation-wide shortage

Safeguarding

In addition to the difficulty some foster carers experience when moving between fostering services there is a wider issue which is ensuring that foster carers can be prevented from carrying out the role of a foster carer if there are issues which question their suitability to be a foster carer. A national register would prevent carers who have had their approval removed from moving around from one area to another.

We believe the fostering service should be responsible for making local decisions but should not be making decisions about a foster carer’s continued suitability to foster; rather they should make a referral on suitability to a central body. If there were a national register of approved foster carers in each nation then individuals could be removed following unsuitability decisions. In the absence of either a national list of approved foster carers, or of those found to be unsuitable (other than, for example, the DBS Barred List in England and Wales), there is no centrally held information on those individuals who are suitable or unsuitable to foster which presents a safeguarding concern. 

The Fostering Network's view

  • We believe that a national register of foster carers in each country is an essential first step to achieving an improvement in foster carer terms and conditions through allowing increased portability of the workforce and increasing public protection by having a central list of all who meet, and continue to meet, the requirements of being an approved foster carer. 
  • The Fostering Network believes that recruitment of foster carers is a local activity and should be based on local needs analysis and strong commissioning frameworks to make the best use of the local workforce. We support standardised and accredited pre- and post-approval training, more regional partnership working on recruitment and training and a stronger body overseeing appeals/deregistration in each nation, but do not believe that all assessment and approval should happen centrally.
  • Under this model when foster carers wanted to transfer to a new fostering service, the new fostering service would be able to check the central register and a more streamlined (fast track) approach could be taken to transferring to a new fostering provider without needing to repeat the assessment and approval process from the beginning.
  • The registration body would make final decisions on a foster carer's continued suitability to remain on the register. All qualifying determination decisions regarding someone’s suitability to continue to be approved would have to be referred to the registration body by fostering service providers and that body would make the final decision. Therefore, foster carers could be removed or refused entry to the register for two reasons:
    • the foster carer does not meet the entry requirements; or
    • the registration body makes a decision to deregister based on a referral from a fostering service.
       

To share your views about the introduction of national registers and The Fostering Network's approach outlined above, please email policy@fostering.net.

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