The children’s system will be jeopardised unless the government secures the future recruitment and retention of enough, high-quality foster carers, a report has warned.
While recruitment and retention of foster carers is not a new issue, it remains the biggest challenge in the fostering system, the report commissioned by the Department for Education found.
“In England, there is still no clear policy on how the future recruitment and retention of foster carers is going to be achieved,” said the report, adding that the approach appears unsystemic and variable.
“It is accepted that some of the reasons that contribute to variation, including staff shortages, the actions of local courts and local practice cultures, may be harder to address,” said the report. “However, lack of confidence in the quality of care that fostering is able to offer may lead local authorities and courts to view care as the last resort and, as a result, that may delay entry to care or decisions about permanency.”
The majority of the foster care workforce are over 50, which means that very experienced, longstanding carers are retiring or will approach this soon and it is proving difficult to replace them.
There is also a shortage of foster carers, particularly amongst those willing and skilled to take children and young people with complex needs.
The report highlighted the importance of support in retaining carers, based on a combination of regular social work support, a professional package of relevant training, opportunities for contact with other carers and adequate remuneration.
The report refers to three ‘wicked’ and hard to resolve issues:
- Children coming into care with increasingly complex problems
- The quality of the social work support offered to children and young people in foster care and their carers
- The need to review the issues that facilitate and challenge outsourcing of fostering services.
The report also highlights little good quality evidence to inform the commissioning of services and very little attempt to provide the quality of detail on which to judge either success or value for money.
As a result, the researchers concluded that the evidence-base is too limited to recommend investment in any established interventions. There is also a clear need to design studies that allow policy makers and commissioners to draw conclusions around what works, for whom and in what contexts, which must include developing innovative but robust research methodologies.
An important step, the report says, would be the development of appropriate and consistent measures of placement outcomes.
The evidence review will contribute to the fostering stocktake being carried out by Sir Martin Narey.