Huge variation in council fostering performance, reveals benchmarking study

Findings show huge performance range in vacancy levels and the time local authorities take to approve new foster carers

Nearly a third of local authority foster care places are not being used, according to the first ever report into national foster carer recruitment.

The benchmarking study, part of a research project funded by the Department for Education and carried out by the Fostering Network with iMPOWER, revealed widely varying timescales and performance across 68 local authorities in England.

On average councils fail to use 31% of their foster care places, while some had vacancy rates as high as 68% and others as low as 5%. Researchers noted it’s important to have some vacancies for choice, but said an average of 31% was “very high”. Vacancies in the voluntary sector were also high at 39%.

Similarly, the rate of foster carer approvals, following an enquiry, ranged from just 1% in some authorities to 37% in others, with an average of 11%. Less than two thirds (62%) of foster carers who continued their assessment following preparation training actually went on to become approved as foster carers.

On average it took 281 days for people to progress from an initial enquiry to becoming a foster carer. The length of assessments recorded across the 68 councils also varied hugely, from the quickest (49 days) to the longest (518).

“The findings show a huge performance range in some areas, in particular around the journey from enquiry to approval and the high level of vacancies,” said James Foyle, recruitment and retention consultant at the Fostering Network.

Foyle urged fostering services to compare the national averages with their own performance so they can identify local opportunities for improvement throughout the recruitment and retention process. Local authorities and independent fostering providers also need to work collaboratively, he said, to ensure new foster carers “fill gaps and meet children’s needs”.

“Recruitment of foster carers is an ongoing challenge, and is complicated by the mixed economy of public and private provision,” Foyle said.

The Fostering Network is working with 14 local authorities until March 2014 and a further 11 in 2014-15 to help highlight areas of potential improvement and to develop and implement action plans to achieve progress.

The action plans will use psychometric profiling, known as Values Modes, to identify ways to target new foster carers and support those already fostering. A report into the Values Modes will be published later this month.

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