Young people represent an untapped opportunity to stem the flow of families leaving the fostering system, a think-tank report says today, with new survey data showing 6% of 18-34 year olds (300,000) are currently considering becoming a foster carer.
The Social Market Foundation said that the twin pressures of an increasing number of children requiring foster care and a failure to recruit enough carers meant an urgent drive was needed to encourage more young people to sign on as foster carers.
Current recruitment trends would deliver fewer than 40,000 new foster families. Compared to the number needed to replace carers leaving the system and ensure that placements can meet the needs of children needing foster care, this would mean a deficit in recruitment of an estimated 25,000 households over the next five years.
Based on an average of 2.9% year on year growth seen in the last five years, the number of children requiring foster care could rise by 33% by 2030 – an estimated 77,000 children.
But around 20% of fostering households leave the system (deregister) each year meaning a significant number of carers must be recruited every year just to stay afloat.
In all of the last five years, growth in the number of approved foster care families was significantly below the level of predicted growth required.
The SMF report focuses on why foster carers deregister and what can attract more people into fostering.
A previous SMF report published earlier this year found local authorities were systematically failing to plan ahead for the growing number of children requiring foster care.
The cross-party think-tank said a national recruitment drive was needed to reach a broader range of groups of potential fosterers, with Opinium polling commission for the report showing one in four 18-34 year olds have actively considered fostering. Currently 88% of fosterers are over 40.
The SMF warned that government and local councils needed to do more to convert the number of enquiries, especially from potential young carers, into registrations.
Over the last five years, there has been a 31% drop in the number of applications to become a foster carer, despite more a year-on-year increases in the number of initial enquiries.
The SMF recommended new weekend and part-time fostering roles to attract young people into becoming foster carers. Six in ten (61%) of 18-34 year olds thinking about fostering said a flexible placement would make them more likely to consider becoming a carer.
Flexible placements could also ease the burden on those who cite a lack of respite as the reason for them leaving the foster care system. Nearly three in ten of those aged 35-54 (30%) said they stopped being a foster carer because they didn’t get enough of a break.
The report also calls on ministers to establish and enforce a Foster Carers’ Charter outlining the rights and responsibilities of carers. It must outline specifically the decisions that foster carers can and cannot make without input from authorities.
Matthew Oakley, Senior Researcher at the Social Market Foundation, said:
“Our previous work has highlighted a systematic failure of local authorities to plan ahead and provide the placements that meet the needs of children requiring foster care. It is therefore no surprise that the foster care system faces a recruitment crisis.
“But it doesn’t need to be like this. Our work shows that many people would consider fostering, or returning to fostering, if they were given the right support and treated professionally. A new Foster Carer Charter would be an important first step, ensuring nationally agreed minimum standards of support for foster carers, including respite and pay.
“More flexible forms of foster care could attract a wider range of people with different skills and capabilities to the system, whilst easing the recruitment pressures that we currently face.
“These issues need to be urgently assessed by the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care and the Government itself; action here is central to ensuring the foster care system can meet children’s needs and, in turn, improve outcomes for some of the most vulnerable children in our society.”
- Independent Review of Children’s Social Care: https://childrenssocialcare.independent-review.uk/
- Opinium surveyed 1,932 UK adults (18+) between 22nd and 25th October 2019 and 828 UK adults; 180 foster carers, 537 considerers; 111 who previously were foster carers, between the same dates.
- The report, Fostering the Future – Part 2, is the second of two published by the Social Market Foundation on the foster care system in England. The report is published today at smf.co.uk/publications/fostering-the-future-paper-2
- For media enquiries, please contact Linus Pardoe, SMF Impact Officer – firstname.lastname@example.org