Fear half of foster carers in UK will quit as record numbers need them

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Barnardo’s is urgently calling for more Britons to consider becoming foster carers after the number of children referred to its fostering services jumped by almost a third. The number of children looking for a foster family rose to 19,996 between August 2021 and July 2022, compared with the previous 12-month period when the figure was 15,642.

In England, this was a 28 percent increase, a 16 percent rise in Wales, and a difference of 50 percent in Scotland.

Worryingly, campaigners fear the worst is yet to come as skyrocketing inflation, energy bills, fuel costs and food prices are likely to push more children into the care system.

Helen Browne, Assistant Head of Fostering and Adoption at Barnardo’s, told the Express: “The cost-of-living crisis is getting worse every day with families struggling and many more children likely to end up entering the care system as a result.

“We urgently need more people to consider becoming foster carers.”

The results from the charity’s latest YouGov poll show that 27 percent of UK adults couldn’t afford to foster a child in the current climate.

However, the most common concern people have is that they think they are too young or too old (48 percent).

Helen added: “At Barnardo’s, we welcome foster carers from all walks of life.

“We have approved fosters who range from as young as 23 to 79 years old. It is all about what that person can bring to the life of a child in care.”

The latest statistics show that the number of children in care in the UK is now standing at a record-high of more than 100,000, with 80,000 in England alone in search of a new home.

It is a frightening time as it comes when Barnardo’s are seeing a decline in the number of adults considering becoming foster parents.

The charity’s recent YouGov survey found that just a quarter (24 percent) of adults in the UK would consider fostering a child in the next five years.

And this drops by more than half to 11 percent for children aged 11 to 15 and to just three percent for children aged 16 to 17.

A Daily Express probe can reveal that the number of children successfully fostered through local authority services in the UK is continuing to fall year on year.

Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to 90 councils across the country found that between April 2019 and April 2020, 41,033 children were fostered.

This dropped to 40,000 the following year, in the same time period.

Sadly, figures show that fewer children are finding their forever homes as the number of children successfully adopted through local authority services also decreased.

Between April 2019 and April 2020, 2,569 children across the country were taken in by adoptive parents. The following year, this shrank to 2,288.

Some campaigners believe this decline could be due to local authority cuts to foster carer fees, forcing carers to resign.

Andy Elvin, CEO of TACT Fostering, wants to reassure potential foster carers that they will be fully supported, financially and emotionally, if they go through a charity like TACT or Barnardo’s.

Mr Elvin said: “Fostering should be considered a great option in the current economic climate because carers will be supported financially by fostering charities like TACT and is hugely rewarding on a personal level, helping vulnerable children and young people, plus there is a huge demand for carers across the UK.

“Fostering agencies such as TACT have already increased our carer’s fees during the current cost-of-living crisis to support them.

“However, we are aware that a few local authorities have been forced to cut foster carer fees owing to the horrendous financial strain central government funding cuts and inflationary pressures have placed on them.

“This is counterproductive as foster carers will leave and more children will be placed in more expensive residential care.

“We need more foster carers, especially for teenage children and we’d encourage anyone looking to give something back to their community and help transform a child’s life to contact us.

“If you have room in your heart and your home for a child, we want to hear from you.”

By 2025, it is believed that the number of children coming into foster care could reach a startling 100,000, which would create a shortage of around 25,000 foster carers, according to Capstone foster care.

This is why Barnardo’s says it is vital to increase the number of foster carers to keep up with the growing numbers of children entering the care system and to ensure they can be placed with a loving, stable and safe family who can meet their needs.

The charity is also urging the Government to make fundamental changes to improve care, support and outcomes for vulnerable children.

As a part of this, it is calling for ministers to establish a new national foster carer recruitment programme for England, with the aim of approving 9,000 new foster carers in the next three years.

MP Marie Rimmer said: “The reality is that there is a serious lack of foster parents in the country.

“This is not a new problem, yet the cost-of-living is only going to make this worse. Taking on a child is a huge responsibility and people do not want to undertake this if they cannot afford to do it.

“The Government really needs to look at incentivising foster caring to make it more affordable for willing parents.

“The consequences of failing to do this are damning for both the children and the country. It makes long-term social and economic sense for foster care to be as affordable and simple a process as possible.

“It shames the country if we cannot make sure these children have safe and loving homes.”

CEO of the Fostering Network, Kevin Williams, said: “The growing number of children coming into care stresses the urgency for more foster carers to come forward.

“They play a vital role in making a difference to the lives of young people, and they are the bedrock of children’s social care.

“The children they look after rely on their care, dedication, passion and skills to support them when they need it most.

“The fostering community is open to people from all walks of life – no matter your age, gender, relationship status or sexual orientation.

“If you are considering fostering, now is the time to contact your local fostering service and find out more – it’s never been more important.”

Cllr Patricia Bradwell, Vice Chair of the Local Government Association’s Children & Young People Board, said: “Foster carers do an outstanding job looking after children who can’t live with their birth families, providing them with the love and security they need to thrive.

“However, as the number of children in care continues to rise, we have for some years been highlighting the shortage of foster carers available to help every child who needs a foster home.

“This is particularly the case for children who have complex needs, who may need to be placed further away from home to make sure they receive the specialist support they need.

“We are pleased at the Government’s commitment to working with councils on foster carer recruitment campaigns and urge them to bring this work forward as quickly as possible.

“We also call on the Government to fund the additional support to foster carers recommended in the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care,

which will not only help us to recruit additional foster carers but to support our existing, highly skilled foster carers to continue in their valued roles.”

‘Rewarding’ to provide a ‘safe and loving environment’ for those who need it

Foster mum Christine Claire wants prospective foster carers to know how “rewarding” it is to provide a “safe and loving environment” for those who really need it.

The 59-year-old civil servant has been supporting older children and teenagers since March 2020, shortly after the UK went into lockdown.

Christine, who lives in Croydon, London, said her journey into fostering was “daunting” but Barnardo’s made her feel “at ease” from the very start.

She has taken in several children in that time, and she is currently caring for a 17-year-old boy from Eritrea, in East Africa.

Speaking about her fostering experience, she said: “As a foster carer for Barnardo’s, I’ve been caring for older children and teenagers for over two and a half years and it has added richness and vitality to my life.

“Through them, I have been able to learn about new languages, and cultures and how to communicate and connect with young people at different emotional levels.

“When the boy I am currently caring for first arrived in my home, he was understandably very timid and nervous. But recently I’ve been able to tell that he’s feeling happier and more at ease.

“I can tell by simple things like when I see him singing and dancing to himself when he’s listening to music in the kitchen.

“He has also been able to start a friendship with my older foster son who is 21 and also Eritrean. When he first arrived, he too lacked confidence and was very timid.

“Through Barnardo’s, I was able to help him develop the essential life skills which every young person needs – but for care-experienced young people can be difficult for them to acquire if they don’t have a family of their own to turn to for guidance and support.

“Along with helping him to do his own washing, cooking, and ironing, I helped him to set up his own bank account and other welfare provisions.

“By providing a safe and loving environment, he was able to go to college, complete an ESOL course and is now fluent in English and doing very well.

“He has applied to become an ambulance driver and is living in his own flat which he’s very proud of. A lot of the decorating he’s done himself. It’s a very beautiful place. I have been there myself and seen it.”

Christine has four biological sons, but she has always enjoyed helping young people and found her experience raising her sons “positive and fulfilling”.

She said that Barnardo’s is very approachable and skilled at working at a pace that suited her, her family and her career, and she felt “reassured” and ”in control” throughout the process.

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