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History of Foster Care

August 29, 2018 | matt

Have you ever stopped to think about the origins of foster care?

We have been supporting young people in care throughout the North West and the Midlands since 1988, but fostering goes back much further than this.  Here we give a brief overview of the history of Foster Care.

Some of the earliest references to foster care can be found in the Talmud and the Old Testament.  Within these references it is established that there is a duty to care for dependent children under law.  Earlier Christian church records mention children living with ‘worthy widows’, with funding provided by collections from the congregation. 

Foster care in the modern sense was first introduced in the United Kingdom in 1853 when Reverend John Armistead removed children from a workhouse in Cheshire and placed them with foster families.  The local council (called unions at the time) was legally responsible for the children and paid the foster parents a sum equal to the cost of maintaining the child in the workhouse.

These custodial decisions were determined by the Chancery court under a process known as ‘wardship’, but without any legal basis.

Fostering (and adoption) started to be regulated from the middle of the 19th century onwards following a series of “baby farming” scandals.  The practice of baby farming was born in the late Victorian era when there was no effective contraception and a great social stigma associated with having a child out of wedlock.

Adoption agencies and social services didn’t legitimately exist at the time, leading to a number of untrained women offering their services to unmarried mothers who would hand over their baby along with between £5 - £15 (a substantial sum of money then) in the hope that the child could be re-homed, which most were.

By the end of the 19th century, some poor law authorities and voluntary organisations were referring to fostering as ‘boarding out’ and using it as an official alternative to placing neglected children in a workhouse or orphanage.

The first world war led to an increase in organised adoption through legitimate adoption societies and child rescue organisations, and pressure grew for adoption to be given legal status.

The first legal precedent for adoption (..and fostering) was established in 1926 with the Adoption of Children Act.  Since then, almost every decade has bear witness to new laws for increased regulation in the UK, with some geographical differences between its respective nations.

Fostering currently takes several forms and its use has grown significantly as the use of children's homes has reduced.  The DfE refers to eight forms of foster care: emergency, short term, short breaks, remand, fostering for adoption, family and friends, specialist therapeutic, and long term.

Fostering Statistics (as at 31 March 2018)

On 31 March 2019, there were 78,150 looked after children in England, up 4% on the previous year.   56,270 (72%) children were in foster placements – an increase from 55,200 in 2018 but a 1% point reduction in proportion of overall children looked after (down from 73% in 2018).  This tallies with a continued increase in the number of children placed in secure units, children's homes and hostels, and placed with parents.

In terms of ethnicity, White children accounted for 76% of all young people in foster care, which is in line with the previous 2 years.  Of all children, 23% belonged to non-White ethnic groups, with the remaining 1% recorded as 'Unknown'.

Most of the children in care in England, and most of those fostered, were looked after due to ‘abuse or neglect’ (63%) and 14% were in care because of ‘family dysfunction’.  A further 15% were in care due to 'no parents available to provide for the child' (7%), 'child or parents disability or illness' (6%) and 'low income or socially unacceptable beahviour' (2%) respectively.

In total, 9,740 applications to become a foster carer were submitted between 1st April 2018 - 31st March 2019, which is a decrease of almost 1,000 applications compared to the previous years figures.  Considering the number of children in foster care continues to increase whilst applications to foster is decreasing, this is a problem that must urgently be addressed.

The fostering network estimates a shortage of 7,220 foster families needed in England to support young people in the next 12-months alone. In particular, there is a need for foster families to support teenagers and sibling groups.  Without adequate resource, some children will find themselves living away from family, friends and school and being separated from their brothers and sisters.  At 31 March 2019, 79% of foster placements were within 20 miles of the young person’s home.

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Can you make a difference to a child’s life? 

We are actively recruiting foster carers across the North West and the Midlands.  If you're interested in learning more about fostering then we'd love to hear from you.

You can get in touch by completing our short enquiry form below, or you can call us on 0800 5 677677.

Healing Pasts | Building Futures
Since 1988

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