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Lack of capacity in foster care sector placing children at risk

Vulnerable children are missing out on the care and support they need due to a continued lack of capacity in the foster care sector, Ofsted has warned.

The numbers of fostering households and foster carers in England are at their highest ever levels, the inspectorate highlights, yet the increases are not keeping up with demand in the sector.

The number of foster carers in England has increased by 4% since 2014, yet the number of children in foster care has increased by 11%.

The figures showed that at 31 March 2021, there were 45,370 fostering households and 76,640 foster carers in England, which is a 2% and 4% increase since 2014 to 2015, respectively. However, over the period to March 2020, the number of children in foster care grew by around 11%.

The number of fostering households and carers has risen but Ofsted suggests that the range of carers available aren’t always able to meet children’s increasingly complex needs.

Yvette Stanley, Ofsted’s National Director for Social Care, said: “These statistics paint a bleak picture. Foster carers make such a difference to children’s lives. But year on year we see more children coming into foster care, and too few carers with the right skills to give them the support they deserve. How long can this go on before the care system reaches breaking point?

“We rarely see children coming into care who don’t need to be, but with the right help earlier, some may be able to remain with their families. We also need to urgently boost the number of foster carers, making sure they, and the children they care for, get the right support,” she added.

With the number of children in care growing, matching them with the right carers becomes increasingly difficult. As a result, vulnerable children face placement breakdowns which add further disruptions to their lives.

Furthermore, there were record levels of enquiries received from prospective fostering households last year, however, statistics show these aren’t translating into applications. Of 160,000 initial enquiries from prospective fostering households, only around 10,000 (6%) resulted in applications – a decrease from 12% in 2014 to 2015.

The number of family and friends fostering households is at its highest level yet. These carers are a vital part of the system – but their impact on overall capacity is limited by the nature of their role. As at 31 March 2021, just over a quarter of local authority fostering households (8,045) had family and friends care as their primary placement offer (27%). This is an increase of 7% from 2015 to 2016.

Fostering in England 2020 to 2021: main findings

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