There is a clear need to recruit and retain more foster carers if we are to meet the needs of a growing number of children who will require foster care over the next decade.
The current number and diversity of foster care placements is insufficient to meet the needs of existing children requiring foster care, whilst poor retention of foster carers means that around 20% of fostering households leave the system each year. This report projects that more than 63,000 new foster care families will need to be recruited over the next five years, but current trends would deliver fewer than 40,000 new families, meaning a deficit in recruitment of around 25,000 foster care families.
This report, the second in a series on reforming the foster care system sponsored by the Hadley Trust, seeks to understand the reasons why carers leave the system and what steps could be taken to attract more people into fostering.
- A Foster Carers’ Charter – including specific and measurable commitments, with nationally agreed minimum standards, that can be tailored to specific situations of the placement in questions, so that carers are very clear about their rights and responsibilities. This should build on the charter developed by the Fostering Network.
- A right to access respite care, training and support – foster carers should be provided nationally agreed minimum standards for access to respite, both whilst they have a child placed with them and between placements. This will require recruiting more places that are specifically targeted as short-term (potentially weekend) care, which has the added potential to attract more prospective carers to the system.
- Consider foster carer pay – our findings highlight a number of issues around foster carer pay, which force people to deregister or drop interest in fostering. Tackling these issues will be central to attracting and retaining foster carers, but we recognise that pay is the subject of significant debate. The range of possible options should be explored in more detail by the Review of Children’s Social Care, or a separate review commissioned by it.
- Increasing the recruitment of flexible foster carers – new weekend or part-time fostering roles should be created and recruited for, which could attract a large number of people to become foster carers. This is particularly true of younger adults (aged under 34), where half or more of those already considering fostering would be attracted to it if they could do it part time, or only at the weekends.
- A nationally-coordinated recruitment drive – led by central government, this would ensure consistency of messaging and national reach, and could deliver significant economies of scale compared to local authorities and IFPs having to develop and implement a significant increase in their own advertising activity.