Ageing foster care workforce is a 'ticking time bomb', warns Loughton

By Lauren Higgs

| 21 May 2012

Fostering agencies must strive to recruit younger carers because the bulk of the workforce is approaching retirement, the children's minister Tim Loughton has warned.

8,750 new foster carers are needed across the UK this year alone. Image: Morguefile

Yet-to-be published Department for Education (DfE) research into the demographics of foster carers has found that the majority of carers are currently aged 46 to 55.

According to the Fostering Network, 8,750 new foster carers are needed across the UK this year alone, while three out of five fostering services are "desperately seeking foster carers”.

Loughton argued that the current shortfall of carers could increase dramatically, unless a more diverse range of foster carers is recruited.

He urged employers to make it easier for people to foster and announced plans to make the DfE the first government department to have a “foster family friendly” policy, so carers have the right to time-off and flexible leave to help them fulfill their duties.

Meanwhile new statutory guidance will require fostering services to be more responsive to foster carers in employment – for example, by holding meetings about children’s care in the evening or weekends instead of during working hours.

The new guidance will also stop fostering services enforcing a "blanket ban” on foster carers carrying out other paid work – unless they care for very young children, those with very challenging needs, or disabled children who need stay-at-home care.

Loughton suggested that fostering services should target professionals such as nurses, teachers and social workers, as potential foster carers. He added that younger carers should be encouraged to foster by being given the option to provide short-stay care.

Loughton described the number of existing foster carers coming up to retirement age as a “ticking time bomb”.

“We need to be recruiting from the widest pool of potential carers, making it as easy as possible for people who are able meet children’s needs to come forward,” he said.

“The vast majority of children in care are fostered at some stage – so we need to make the system work better.

"It is wrong to turn a blind eye to anyone who has the skills and qualities to give young people a stable nurturing home, whether they are younger or older, and whether or not they are in a job or working with children already.”

Robert Tapsfield, chief executive of the Fostering Network, added: "We join the government in calling on all employers to be more foster family friendly.

“Offering foster carers understanding, flexibility and support can make a real difference to their ability to meet the needs of the children they look after.”

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