The care system will collapse if children’s services budgets are slashed and unless more foster carers are recruited, the Fostering Network has warned.
A survey of 76 fostering services in the UK, carried out by the charity in April and May, found the care system was “bursting at the seams” as a result of the increased referrals since the Baby P case.
Four out of five local authorities had seen a rise in the number of children needing foster homes in 2009-10 and 58% had found it more difficult than usual to find the right homes for children. Some councils said the situation was the worst ever.
Only one-third said they had been able to find the most appropriate placements.
Two-thirds of councils had been forced to ask foster carers to look after children outside their area of expertise, while the report found increasing instances where foster carers were asked to take on children for a first placement who were more challenging than previously deemed appropriate.
At least half of councils reported a rise in the number of family and friends foster carers being approved. The report said this highlighted the need for improved assessments and more training to help social workers identify prospective family and friends carers.
Fostering services also reported concerns about social workers’ caseloads while some were concerned about the shortage of qualified social workers, resulting in more agency staff being used. They said this led to a break in the continuity of social workers.
The Fostering Network highlighted the need for 10,000 extra foster carers and an investment of £580m to develop a properly resourced fostering service in the UK.
Helen Clarke, author of the report, said budget cuts could be “devastating” and urged local and central government to invest in foster care. “There needs to be a renewed sense of urgency to recruit more foster carers and ensure the current foster care workforce is properly paid and supported. Otherwise, our society’s most vulnerable children will suffer,” she said.
The latest figures from family courts body Cafcass revealed a 33% increase in care applications in the financial year 2009-10: 8,684 care cases, compared with 6,488 the previous year.
John Ransford, chief executive of the Local Government Assocation, said the care system was under pressure because it was “never designed to deal with the increase in numbers we have experienced in the past couple of years”.
But Ransford said money should never be a factor in decision-making: “There is no question of money being a factor in deciding how a vulnerable child is cared for. Wherever a child is identified as being in danger, councils and the courts will take them out of the family home if that is the best way to protect them.”