This stocktake is a positive opportunity to review current services and make sure that the system is working as well as possible, and in particular we appreciate the constructive dialogue that the Department for Education (DfE) has already instigated with the sector.
Foster carers provide a vital service to thousands of vulnerable children across the country, but the narrative around foster care is too often overtly negative. The implications that foster care is a poor relation to adoption, or that children in foster care are inevitably headed towards negative outcomes despite evidence of the benefits of long-term care for children in need, must be challenged. The positive role of foster carers in improving the lives of vulnerable children should be more widely acknowledged.
The number of looked-after children, including those in foster care, has been steadily increasing over the last eight years, with recent increases in the number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children arriving in the UK putting further pressure on the system. Thousands more foster carers are needed to provide appropriate placements for children who need them.
Provision of further training and support is needed to improve the support available to foster carers. Delegating decision-making, and affording foster carers greater levels of recognition and respect for their role in multiagency settings, could also help to improve outcomes for children and reduce levels of additional intervention.
Independent fostering agencies (IFAs) have a vital role to play in the fostering sector, in particular through the provision of specialist placements. However, there is tension between councils and some IFAs due to concerns around the cost of IFA placements, and practices such as the use of ‘golden hellos’ by some IFAs to attract local authority foster carers. Many councils report that an IFA placement can often cost twice as much as an in-house placement. In addition, it has been reported that a small number of IFAs are making profits of £40 million in a year from fostering that we believe should instead be invested in support for vulnerable children.
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Fostering stocktake submission: 18 June 2017