Councils unprepared as foster care need set to increase by a third, think tank says

Think tank says growing need means 77,000 children will need foster care by the end of the decade, an increase of more than 30%.

01/07/21

Councils unprepared as foster care need set to increase by a third, think tank says

The number of children needing foster care in England is predicted to rise by almost a third by 2030 but councils are failing to make plans for their care, new research reveals.

The forecasts are made in a report by the Social Market Foundation (SMF) think tank, which finds 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 cross-party think tank forecasts that there will be almost 77,000 children in foster care in England by 2030 – an increase of more than 30% from the current figure of around 56,500.

Despite the steady growth in the number of children needing to be fostered, many councils are currently failing to meet a statutory duty to plan and provide adequate fostering places, the research found.

Failures to provide appropriate foster care means that many siblings are split up when they are fostered. Official data and previous studies have suggested that thousands of brothers and sisters have been separated in foster care in the last five years.

It is estimated that roughly 8,000 children were not placed ‘to plan’ between 2015 and 2020, according to official statistics. The SMF says that evidence indicates that siblings not placed to plan can lead to brothers and sisters being split up from each other.

The research used Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to discover that only 6% of local authorities were able to provide details of the number of sibling groups they expected to need placements for in the future. Three quarters of local authorities said they had made no forecast of future demand for foster care.

The SMF says 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. Authors say 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 think tank warned that the number of foster care families being approved was also sluggish and unlikely to meet the coming need, a point also highlighted by the Review of Children’s Social Care’s Case for Change. Over the last five years, growth in the number of approved foster care families was less than 3%. Read more: https://www.socialworktoday.co.uk/News/Care-Review-says-investigation-has-dominated-over-support-in-first-major-findings

Official statistics on capacity in the foster care system are disguising the problem, the think tank said, since these only measure the number of children requiring placements and the number of placements available. The report says these figures are “misleading and inaccurate”, as they say little about whether these placements can 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).

As a result of the findings, the authors are calling 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.

They say 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 with the right placements providing care and support, care-experienced children can be given the same life chances as those without experience of care, however this is not currently 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,” Oakley said. “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.”

Cllr Teresa Heritage, Vice Chairman of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said looking after children who cannot live with their families is one of the most important jobs that councils do.

“With councils now looking after nearly 16,000 more children than they were 10 years ago, and the needs of those young people becoming more complex, it is becoming increasingly difficult for councils to make sure that every child has the best home to meet their needs.

“As the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care has rightly highlighted, there has been a lack of national focus on the recruitment of foster carers and we continue to call on the Government to work with councils on a campaign to encourage more people to come forward.

“We look forward to continuing our work with the Independent Review to find ways to improve the children’s social care system, including fostering, to make sure all children in care can grow up in loving homes that meet their needs and support them to thrive.”

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