Foster carers 'urgently' needed, says charity

Karen describes what it is like being a foster carer

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More foster carers are urgently needed as the care system in the UK struggles to meet the needs of the most vulnerable children, a charity warns.

The Fostering Network says care services have seen a rise in demand for foster homes following the death of Baby Peter in London in August 2007.

The network says there is a shortage of more than 10,000 foster families.

The charity is urging ministers to make investment in foster care services a priority, despite pressure on budgets.

In its report - Bursting at the seams - the Fostering Network said the care system had seen an "unprecedented rise" in the number of children needing foster placements since the death of Baby Peter came to public attention.

Start Quote

There needs to be a renewed sense of urgency to recruit more foster carers”

End Quote Helen Clarke Report author

In total, 53,934 children in the UK needed a foster home in 2009, compared with 51,009 in 2007.

The report said increased demand meant many foster carers were being asked to look after children outside their area of expertise, and for whom they might not have the right skills.

It said new foster carers were often being asked to take in children with more challenging behaviour than in the past, not allowing carers to build up their confidence and skills.

There was also a marked rise in demand for homes for under-fours which had led to a shortage of homes for teenagers as younger children were prioritised.

Shortages of foster homes

  • England: 8,200
  • Scotland: 1,700
  • Wales: 750
  • Northern Ireland: 200
  • Total: 10,850
  • Source: Fostering Network

Similar concerns were voiced in a report published by NSPCC, the Children's Society and York University last month.

The Fostering Network urged the government to make sure funding for local authorities took account of the increased numbers of children coming into care.

It said fostering services must ensure pay and allowances for foster carers was sufficient to recruit and retain enough people with the right skills and experience.

As part of its research, the Fostering Network conducted interviews with 76 fostering services across England, Scotland and Wales and questioned over 300 foster carers.

Cuts 'devastating'

Report author Helen Clarke said the system was under "unprecedented pressure".

"The impact of the rise in children needing foster homes and the shortage of foster carers means the system is no longer sustainable and budget cuts could be devastating.

"Investment in foster care must remain a priority for both central and local government.

"There needs to be a renewed sense of urgency to recruit more foster carers and to ensure the current foster care workforce is properly paid and supported. Otherwise, our society's most vulnerable children will suffer."

Chief executive of the Local Government Association John Ransford said the system was never designed to deal with the increase in numbers experienced in the past two years.

"The work foster carers do looking after children in the care system is invaluable," he said.

"Councils are well aware of their duty to help and advise foster families, who deserve the gratitude, respect and support of everyone."

Your comments

I was in foster care as a child. My brother and I went from place to place after our mum died. I know what it's like to be a vulnerable child. Sadly my husband and I can't have children but I have always wanted to be a good mum so we applied to be foster parents. We had a visit from the council and were told that we had a good marriage and a good house but that, because we didn't have children, we lacked parenting skills. I used to help the smaller children in the children's home I was in and I've worked in a nursery. Just because I can't have children, doesn't mean I can't parent. When I heard about the shortage of social workers, I felt very angry. People like me and my husband shouldn't be turned down.

Jo, Hampshire

My wife and I have been foster carers for two-and-a-half years now. We thought we coud do something helpful. It is very demanding and incredibly exhausting. The children who come to us are damaged. They can be hostile and verbally aggressive. They improve when they're with us but when they leave it feels like all the good work has been undone. Some children are hard to let go, especially as we have no control over where they go. We have got attached to children before and that's very hard to see them leave. Recently, we've been asked to do a lot of paperwork. This is on top of working relentlessly to help the children. I think it's just too much and makes me question whether to continue fostering.

James, Devon

Fostering is a unique position to hold in life. You are caring for some of the most vulnerable children who often have complex emotional and social difficulties. We have been fostering since 2001 and before this we had adopted. We feel in a privilged but often vulnarable position. Caring for other people's children in your own home is a job which takes dedication. With adequate support, guidance and training this enbles you to meet the needs of most children. The other side is the bureaucracy around getting the services for the children you care for. I believe the gap in foster care may begin to be filled when the sevices for the children is streamlined and improved. The cut-backs will not help the children we care for.

Carol, Oxfordshire

My husband and I are going through the process at present to become foster parents. We have three children of our own and feel that we could give the love and support needed to help a child. I was fostered before I was adopted so have a sense of what they will be feeling. It's a long process before you get a child placed with you. There are courses to go on, informational days and many many visits from social workers to make sure you are the right kind of people to go forward to foster. The time scale is about six months from start to finish if you have never done fostering before. The agency will then have a detailed profile on both the husband and wife wishing to foster. Also, any children in the household aged over 10 will have CRB checks. It seems a little intrusive but it will all be worth it in the end if a child is placed in a happy, loving and understanding environment.

J.Bates, Canterbury

Me and my partner have been foster carers for many years and it is a rewarding job with many highs and many lows. We have had only one placement during this time but have had the pleasure of meeting a beautiful child. We have had a large part in helping this child grow and mature into a wonderful young adult who I would be proud to have as my own child. However, in our experiences you do not get the support promised, which you need to do a very diffculy job. Often the focus by social workers is on what the family want, and the needs and wants of the child are not acted upon, leaving the child and the carers feeling frustrated. We must remember the child has been removed from the family for a reason. There is a lot of talk about recruiting new carers, however, not much is done to retain experienced carers and you are often left for months to deal with very difficult situations on your own with no visit from support workers or social workers. At least we have supported and loved one young person and helped them have a better start in life, and that makes it worthwhile. Our experiences have left us questioning whether we would or whether we could foster again after our current child leaves our care.

Anonymous,

Up until December 2009, my wife and I fostered 20 children for a return of £60 a week, which works out as an hourly rate of less than 36p per hour. That return, for a vocation is fine, but the system changed over the seven years that we worked for the local council. Initially we worked with a 'supporting social worker' but it changed to a 'supervising social worker'. Suddenly we had nobody supporting us or helping with the paperwork. Instead we told what to do and what courses we had to attend. We also had to fill in a 200 page booklet on what we had been doing. Whilst much of the paperwork is necessary, it is unreasonable to expect a foster carer to spend up to 10 hours a week on paperwork, training, meetings and travelling for less than 36p per hour. We, and many of our peers, would still be fostering if the system had not turned on us. There is much more we could say, but even now, the wounds are still sore.

Brian, Bournemouth

We applied to be foster carers. We have no children of our own but have experience in caring for children in the family. However, we were turned down because we don't have enough experience. We have a lot to offer: A four-bedroom house with a garden, a large extended family who would we very supportive and many other attributes. Why are couples like us being turned down?

Mrs M, Horsham

My husband and I have been emergency foster carers for our daughter's friend in the past, and were asked if we would consider fostering. We were delighted to be asked but when we enquired, we were told that we had to have a seperate room for a foster child. We have a 19-year-old daughter at university and a seven-year-old at primary school. We have large bedrooms and could accomodate two boys to share with our son, but apparently this is not acceptable. Both of us find this rule to be unrealistic as sharing bedrooms with family members is part of a 'normal' upbringing in a loving family. We are both high earners and have lots of love and guidance to share with children in need of love and stability. We feel very frustrated that we are unable to share our happy family life with children who so desperately need it.

Joanne, Romford

My wife and I went through the foster carer process. We didn't continue with it simply because the financial reward is not good enough. You can't expect people in this day and age to give up work and become committed carers when people find it difficult to survive on one income.

Woody, Norfolk

My husband and I completed a foster skills course three years ago. We applied in the course. Since then, we have had one letter and an apologetic phone call. Judging by the advertising that our county council has taken out, there is still a shortage of foster carers. However staff shortages have prevented them following up our application. I feel desperately sorry for any children in need of care in our county as they are not getting help.

Heather, location not named

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