By Maria Ahmed and Gordon Carson
This week’s report on the cost of foster care from Baaf
Adoption and Fostering and the Fostering Network is a comprehensive
analysis of the investment required to bring about improvements in
fostering services in the UK.
The current expenditure of £932m by the governments of
England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is nowhere near
enough, it says and calls for another £750m a year to be made
available as soon as possible.
Money is a major factor in the problems experienced in fostering.
The shortage of 10,000 carers has been blamed on the fact that many
existing foster families don’t receive a satisfactory
allowance from local authorities to support children in their care,
while fewer than half receive an extra fee or income on top of that
The report, The Cost of Foster Care, finds that the lives of
looked-after children are determined by “short-term,
cash-strapped” local authority budgets.
It says funding should be seen as “an investment in a group
of children and young people who, as adults, are over-represented
in prisons, the homeless and as users of mental health
And the importance of more investment in fostering is highlighted
by the fact that nearly three-quarters of the 75,000 children in
care living away from home are placed with foster carers. The
number of children in foster care is also rising by the year.
The report’s main concerns include:
- A significant proportion of local authorities/health boards
still pay their foster carers an allowance that is lower than the
Fostering Network’s recommended rate
- Many foster carers lack the training and support to address the
complex needs of children in their care
To improve this situation, the Fostering Network and Baaf make a
series of recommendations, including:
- 85 per cent of foster carers should receive a fee on top of
- post-approval training should be an essential part of an
effective foster care service, and in the future at least 50 per
cent of foster carers should be trained to S/NVQ Level 3 or an
equivalent level of qualification
- and significant investment is needed to improve recruitment and
find foster carers who can meet the needs of children from diverse
The report also recognises that foster carers are
“increasingly seen as key members of the professional team
that is responsible for securing improved outcomes for children in
foster care”. With this, however, come “increasing
demands and expectations” and the need for more training.
A spokeswoman from the Local Government Association’s
children and families policy team says: “Traditionally foster
carers had a voluntary role with very little recognition, but now
for many it is a source of income and career, and they should get
proper workforce recognition”.
However, John Coughlan, chair of the Association of Directors of
Social Services’ children and families committee, says the
“traditional volunteer element” of the foster care role
is “still critical in ensuring quality foster
Problems facing local authorities
He says the recruitment and retention of foster carers are key
issues facing local authorities. While he believes councils should
retain their independence to make decisions about how to run their
foster services, he recognises that the report and the DfES are
trying to put more consistency into the system.
A national minimum allowance for foster carers would be one way
of tackling huge variations across local authorities (a Fostering
Network survey last year found that only 30 per cent of foster
carers receive more than £100 a week, a figure that’s
still less than the Fostering Network’s recommended minimum).
The LGA spokeswoman says that if there were to be a statutory
minimum allowance the LGA would help to ensure that local
authorities would meet it.
The Children Act 2004 gives the governments of England and Wales
the power to set national minimum allowances. However, the
government does not intend to use any powers to invoke a minimum
rate until 2007 at the earliest. Instead it would like councils to
voluntarily pay a national minimum, the level of which is currently
being worked out by the DfES and stakeholder groups including Baaf
and the ADSS.
Campaigners are hopeful, though, that the government will come
up with more money. At the start of this year, then
children’s minister Margaret Hodge made a commitment, in a
letter to Baaf, that the government would make available extra
funding to support the introduction of a national minimum allowance
The government has already announced that total funding for
children’s social services is to rise by £500m from
2005-6 to 2007-8. But this money is not ring-fenced, meaning
councils will be able to determine their own priorities.
This week the organisations behind the report met the junior
children’s minister, Maria Eagle, to specifically make the
case for more investment in foster care. However, the LGA
spokeswoman warns that the government will need “persuasive
evidence from a number of sources” before it meets the
funding requirements set out in the report.
The Cost of Foster Care from