The number of children needing foster care in England is set to rise by almost a third by 2030 but councils are failing to make plans to care for vulnerable youngsters, new research reveals today.
The Social Market Foundation think-tank calculations are made in a report revealing that many local authorities are failing to fulfil their legal obligations to provide foster care that meets children’s needs and produce plans to meet future need.
The SMF, a cross-party think-tank, forecast that there will be almost 77,000 children in foster care by 2030, an increase of more than 30%. There are currently around 56,500 children being fostered in England.
Despite the steady growth in the number of children needing to be fostered, many councils are failing to meet a statutory duty to plan and provide adequate fostering places, the SMF found. (See notes).
Failure to provide appropriate foster care can mean that siblings are split up when they are fostered. The SMF said that official data and past evidence suggest that thousands of brothers and sisters have been separated in foster care in the last five years. (See notes).
It is estimated that roughly 8,000 children were not placed “to plan” 2015/16-2019/20, according to official statistics. (See notes). Past evidence indicates that siblings not placed to plan can lead to brothers and sisters being split up from each other.
The SMF revelations about foster care came in a report supported by the Hadley Trust, a grant-giving charity helping disadvantaged children and adults.
Freedom of Information requests conducted by the Social Market Foundation show that only 6% of local authorities were able to provide details of the number of sibling groups they expected to need placements for going forwards. (See notes)
Three quarters of local authorities told the SMF they had made no forecast of future demand for foster care, making it impossible for them to ensure they have enough places for vulnerable children.
A failure to forecast future needs was contributing to thousands of children not being placed “to plan” due to a lack of adequate available placements which meet the needs of foster children.
The SMF conclude that this is just one indicator of a “systematic failure of local authorities to meet their statutory duty to plan and provide placements that meet the needs of children requiring foster care”.
The cross-party think-tank suggests that, based on current trends, 77,000 children could need foster care by 2030, a 33% increase over the next decade. Over the last five years, growth in the number of approved foster care families was significantly lower than the required level (2.9%).
Official statistics on capacity in the foster care system are disguising the problem, the SMF said, since these only measure the number of children requiring placements and the number of placements available.
These figures are “misleading and inaccurate”, the report says, as they say little about whether these placements can actually meet the needs of children requiring foster care (for example, whether they are able to meet the needs of specific sibling groups, disabled children or those with specific support needs).
The report calls for a nationally coordinated measure of “effective capacity” – based on needs and circumstances – to be established by the Department for Education, Ofsted, local councils and independent foster providers.
Local and national officials must recognise that it is not the overall number of places available that matters but the appropriateness of those places and whether they meet the needs of children who need placing with foster families.
Matthew Oakley, Senior Researcher at the Social Market Foundation, said:
“Children requiring foster care are some of the most vulnerable in society. With the right placements, providing the support and care they need, these children can be given the same life chances as children without care experience.
“But this is not happening. Local authorities are abjectly failing to meet their legal duties to plan for and provide foster placements that meet the needs of children needing foster care.
“The Department for Education and local authorities must work together urgently to turn this around. We need a new national strategy for ensuring the foster care system has effective capacity and much more support for local authorities to meet their legal duties.
“There can be good reasons for separating siblings in some cases, but doing so because the council has not planned enough appropriate fostering provision is inexcusable. These are vulnerable children who have already faced trauma and turmoil, so it is appalling that the state should then inflict additional strain on them.”
- Ofsted data (Fostering in England 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2020) show that one in eight (13%) children needing foster care as part of a sibling group are “not placed to plan”. In total, there were 8,360 instances of children in England being not placed to plan between 2015/16 – 2019/20..
- Local authorities have a legal duty to “…ensure that there is sufficient accommodation for [looked after] children that meets their needs and is within their local authority area”. This includes being able to “…predict demand for both the quantity and quality of services, drawing on a wide range of available national, regional and local data including individual care plans and individual assessments.”
- To assess how well local authorities are doing to meet this duty, the SMF sent out Freedom of Information requests to all 151 local Authority fostering agencies, asking them what they know about their provision of places for sibling groups and what they expect future demand from these groups to look like.
- The report, Fostering the Future – Helping local authorities to fulfil their legal duties, is the first of two papers to be published by the Social Market Foundation on the foster care system in England. The report is published at smf.co.uk/publications at 07:00 on Friday 25th June, 2021.
Sample responses from authorities:
- “We don’t have current predictions of placements and therefore cannot answer about the potential sibling placements”
- “We are unable to speculate on sibling group requirements in future years”
- “This information is not held by [local authority] as it does not forecast demand for fostering placements.”
- For an embargoed copy of the report and any other media enquiries, please contact Linus Pardoe, SMF Impact Officer – firstname.lastname@example.org – 07402 576995