An inquiry into fostering in England has been launched by the Education Select Committee.
The committee, chaired by Neil Carmichael MP, will examine a range of issues around fostering including the recruitment and retention of foster carers and foster care for children with challenging needs.
Neil Carmichael, Chair of the Education Committee, said: “Fostering is a huge commitment and foster carers play a crucial role in making a positive contribution to the health, well-being, and future prospects of the children in their care. There are more children in care than at any point since 1985 and there are very real concerns of a shortfall in the number of families available to foster and about the support offered to foster carers. The foster care system is in need of urgent attention and in this inquiry we want to examine issues around the recruitment and retention of foster carers, over the role of private sector providers, and the involvement which young people have in their care.”
The majority of looked-after children are placed with foster carers. There were 69,540 children in care on 31 March 2015 and 52,050 were in a foster placement.
However, available capacity for placing children across the fostering sector decreased from 2013-14 to 2014-15, with fewer vacant places and more places unavailable due to the needs of the child or foster carer. The number of filled places increased by 1% overall but fell for local authority carers. Research by the Fostering Network claims that more than 9000 additional fostering families are needed across the UK in 2016.
The Committee's fostering inquiry will also examine the support for and treatment of foster carers, the involvement of young people in their foster care, and the increased role of private companies, in providing children's foster care.
In addition, the committee has called for evidence on the following:
- Stability of foster care placements, including the impact of the Staying Put initiative since its introduction
- The role of voluntary and independent foster care providers, and their relationships and cooperation with local authorities
- The foster care market, including the costs of commissioning of services, financial incentives in the recruitment of foster carers
- The sufficiency of current recognition, support and recompense given to foster carers
- Foster care for young people with specific or challenging needs, and its relationship with residential care
Latest figures show the majority of looked-after children, around two-thirds, are fostered with local authority foster carers, but that local authorities are increasing the percentage of children they place through independent fostering agencies (IFAs).
The inquiry also examines the impact of the Staying Put initiative, which requires local authorities to support arrangements for fostered young people to remain living with their foster carers until the age of 21, if this is desired by both parties and it is in the young person's best interest.
The government recently announced it would undertake a national "stocktake" of fostering in order to understand how the system can be improved. The inquiry will consider what the government should consider in this stock take.
Carmichael added: “Many people in the sector have been calling for a review of fostering for a while now and the Government has responded by announcing a 'stock-take' of fostering in England. But we do not have any details as to what this will look at, how long it will or what the outcomes would be.
“As a Committee we want to identify the main areas where Government needs to act to ensure the foster care system in England is fully equipped to provide young people with the loving, stable care they deserve,” he concluded.
Views can be submitted through the fostering inquiry page. Deadline for written submissions is Friday 25 November 2016. The public evidence sessions for this inquiry are likely to begin in January 2017.