Call for national fostering drive

Derren Hayes
Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Foster carer shortage prompts call for a recruitment campaign with adopters, but prospect splits experts.

The Fostering Network warns that latest figures reveal a system at "breaking point". Picture: LEXA_1112/Adobe Stock
The Fostering Network warns that latest figures reveal a system at "breaking point". Picture: LEXA_1112/Adobe Stock

Latest Ofsted figures show that the number of foster carers in England has increased by four per cent since 2014, while there has been an 11 per cent rise in children in foster care.

The number of older children coming into care has risen since 2016, so it is unsurprising that half of foster carers that responded to the Fostering Network’s 2019 State of the Nation report said they had been asked to care for children outside of their age approval range.

The Fostering Network estimated that 8,600 foster carers would need to be recruited in 2021 to meet demand, but the Ofsted figures show there were 6,800 applications approved in 2020/21. It has warned that the figures reveal a system reaching “breaking point”, while the shortage is seeing councils offer incentive payments worth thousands of pounds to foster carers that sign up (see box).

Call for action

The situation has seen a government adoption adviser – and co-author of a landmark review on fostering – call for Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi to step in and help.

Mark Owers, chair of the National Adoption Recruitment Steering Group, has written to Zahawi urging him to extend the government’s adoption recruitment campaign to include foster carers. In the letter, Owers says the national model developed for recruiting adopters “is directly transferable to fostering” and extending it is necessary as councils face “a significant challenge” in recruiting carers.

Owers led the independent Review of Foster Care in England with Sir Martin Narey in 2018. This also recommended that adopter and foster carer recruitment be brought together in one national campaign.

Andy Elvin, chief executive of Tact Fostering, said a national campaign would be welcome but unlikely because foster care is not a priority for the government.

“If it did happen it would be the first time the Department for Education has lifted a finger to recruit foster carers – it’s always been deemed an issue for local authorities,” says Elvin.

“The DfE’s priority has been adoption. Foster care – and other forms of care – never get a look in.”

However, Elvin says any national campaign would need to be tailored to meet different local needs – for example, some areas are particularly short of foster carers who can look after older children and sibling groups.

In recent years, groups of local authorities have collaborated to run regional recruitment drives, some with modest success, but none have the scale or resources needed to run a successful mass campaign, explains Elvin. Only the DfE has the capacity to do this, he says, or a multi-national company that could lend its support as part of its corporate social responsibility programme. He cites the 2015 KFC advert that had a foster care storyline as an example.

“The advert is for chicken but also depicts the circularity of family life,” Elvin explains. “It’s an emotionally smart advert. We need something with that sort of vibe.”

Awareness campaign

However, Kevin Williams, chief executive of the Fostering Network says the different needs of local areas makes it impractical for a national recruitment campaign. Instead, he wants a national awareness drive about the different types of care.

“Mark Owers’ own fostering review identified seven types of foster care, but most of the publicity around foster care is about those who provide short-term placements,” says Williams. “The idea that foster care is short-term needs challenging. There is a group of people out there that if correctly targeted could be recruited as permanent carers.”

While adoption lends itself to a national recruitment campaign, the desire for foster children to maintain relationships with birth and extended family where possible, and to be in local placements means recruitment is best done locally, Williams says.

Establishing a national leadership board, similar to that for adoption, would improve the support for and status of foster carers, which in turn would boost new recruits because “one of the best recruitment tools is foster carers themselves”, adds Williams.

COUNCILS USE PAYMENTS TO RECRUIT FOSTER CARERS

Oxfordshire County Council has announced it is to offer new foster carers in the area a welcome payment of £1,500.

Welcome payments, or “golden hellos” as they are sometimes called, have been used by independent fostering agencies (IFAs) for many years, but rarely have councils adopted the approach. In fact, in 2016, Dave Hill, then president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, described the practice as “immoral and wrong”.

Emma Fincham-Siley, kinship care and fostering consultant at Coram BAAF, says she is starting to hear of agencies offering golden hellos.

“Local authorities and IFAs are needing to become increasingly creative in the way they encourage and incentivise individuals and families to put themselves forward to become foster carers,” she says. “It feels important to allow fostering recruitment teams the freedom to creatively recruit, while not generating a competitive market that prices out neighbouring agencies (authorities and IFAs) from retaining their population of excellent, committed and resilient foster families.”

However, Fincham-Siley warns that when there is a national shortage poaching of carers is hard to prevent.

FURTHER READING

  • Fostering in England 2020/21, Ofsted, November 2021

  • State of the Nation 2019, The Fostering Network

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