Managing vacancies

Although there is a need for foster carers for specific 'types' of placements and in specific areas across the UK, there are also always foster carers with vacancies. Fostering services need to be clear where these vacancies are and why, to work together to make the best use of the existing foster carer workforce and to recruit only where there is a need.

Recruitment is a year-round activity and fostering services need to recruit to replace foster carers who are leaving the service for many different reasons.

In addition, there are record numbers of children needing foster families across the UK. We know from fostering services that they struggle to find the foster carers they need locally to look after these children, particularly teenagers, disabled children, unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and sibling groups. This is why we publish our annual recruitment targets.

We are equally aware that some foster carers have vacancies for long periods of time, and that they understandably find this very frustrating, particularly if their fostering service is still recruiting new foster carers.

Local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales and health and social services trusts in Northern Ireland almost always want to find a home that enables a young person to stay at the same school and near to their families. That means that they will want to find a foster family in their local area. Keeping sibling groups together is also important, and so foster carers with several spare rooms are needed.

Finding the foster family with the right skills and experience for each individual child is crucial too – careful matching is central to successful outcomes. Not every foster carer is right for every child. At the moment, for example, there is a national shortage of foster families needed to offer homes to teenagers and disabled children, while there are many foster carers approved to care for babies and young children. However there will be regional and local variations in the need for foster carers. Sometimes more training and support and changing terms of approval can mean a foster carer can provide the homes that are required, but if a foster carer cannot meet a child’s assessed needs then the placement should not be made.

Moreover, foster carers working for independent fostering providers (IFPs) rely on local authorities and trusts buying placements from their fostering service. A local authority or trust may choose to recruit in-house foster carers or use another IFP in preference.

The Fostering Network’s view

Fostering services need to work together to make the best use of the existing foster carer workforce and to recruit only where there is a need. Communicating with foster carers about why they have vacancies is crucial.

We believe that:

  • No fostering services should be recruiting foster carers for whom there is no demand. Instead, local authorities, trusts, and IFPs should work together to make the best use of the existing foster carer workforce and ensure they are recruiting the right foster families to meet the needs of the children in and coming into care. Fostering services should also encourage any potential applicants whose skills they don’t currently need to contact an alternative fostering service.
  • All fostering services must be open with applicants about vacancy levels and the reasons for these.
  • Fostering services should pay their foster carers between placements. While some foster carers may choose to hold a vacancy until a young person who fits their requirements needs a placement, many foster carers offer a home to a broad range of children and expect to be working as a foster carer on a full-time basis.
  • If a fostering service thinks it is unlikely that they will place a child with a particular family in the short term, they should be clear about this. They should consider whether the foster carer can widen the range of children they take or use their skills more creatively between placements (as long as they are being paid a retainer) to support other foster carers, provide short break care, undertake or deliver training, or assist in recruiting foster carers.
  • In cases where a service thinks it unlikely that they will be able to place a child with a foster carer in the long term, they must be open and honest with the foster carer about this and the reasons for this.

If foster carers are unsure why they have not had as many placements as they expected, they should discuss this with their fostering service.