Ofsted’s recently published Fostering in England report is stacked with statistics for the period 1st April 2016 to 31st March 2017. Here are some of the key findings.
:: The number of approved fostering households continued to decrease
:: More applications were considered this year but conversion to approvals decreased
:: Independent Fostering Agencies’ approval rate was higher than the Local Authority’s for the first time in at least 5 years
:: There were fewer actual places (vacancies) for children as more places were classed ‘not available’
Number of approved fostering households continued to decrease
The declining year-on-year trend in approved fostering households continued in 2017 with a 1% decrease from the previous year (44,320 to 43,710). The number of mainstream fostering households has decreased every year since 2014 and dropped by 2% last year. The silver lining was a whopping 11% increase in ‘family and friends’ households, rising from 5,985 to 6,615!
This increase undoubtedly played a big part in meeting the demands set by rising numbers of children in care and a fast-reducing number of available mainstream foster homes. Children and young people should be placed with family and friends wherever possible and so it is hoped this increase in available family and friend’s households is leading to better outcomes for children in care.
However, the number of ‘short breaks’ households fell dramatically by over 30% - the largest reduction in the last 4 years!
More applications were considered this year but conversion to approvals decreased
Process to become a foster carer with Family Care
Enquiry – The first step, usually in the form of a phone call or web enquiry click here
Application – Completing the application form and submitting it to your Independent Fostering Agency
Approval – Becoming approved as a foster carer following a 4 to 6 month application & assessment process
Initial enquiries to Independent Fostering Agencies (IFA) like Family Care rose by 20%, compared to a small 1% decrease in Local Authority (LA) enquiries. However, conversion rates from enquiry to application were significantly different between the two sectors – with 18% of LA enquiries leading to applications, compared to just 8% with IFA’s.
It should be noted that applications do not always lead to approvals, and one of the biggest findings was a large reduction in LA approval rates from 57% to 45%. This could be accounted for by the increase in LA’s converting enquiries to applications – understandable given the crisis facing the fostering sector currently and predicted in the coming years.
For the first time in at least 5 years, the approval rate for IFA’s (53%) was higher than it was for LA’s (45%). The number of foster vacancies (often known as ‘places’) also increased in independent fostering agencies by 2%, whilst the number remained static in LA’s – resulting in an overall increase of 1% in foster vacancies.
There were fewer actual places for children as more places were classed ‘not available’
The number of approved foster places may have seen a 1% increase (Up from 83,175 to 83,930), but the number of foster places classed as ‘not available’ increased at a faster rate – meaning there were fewer vacancies available for children needing foster care than the previous year.
The number of vacancies ‘not available’ increased from 16% to 18% (13,000 to 15,520 overall). This meant that despite the total number of approved vacancies increasing, the number available for children to be placed into decreased by 3%.
The number of children in care also increased at a faster rate than the number of foster places, leading to further suggestions that the fostering sector is struggling to keep up with the increasing demand.
What does all this mean?
Unfortunately, fewer places available often lead to young people being placed further away or in homes that aren’t ideally equipped to meet all of their needs. This may sound very flawed as children should always be placed in a home suited to support them, but the limited choices available to LA’s and the urgency with which care arrangements often must be made is leading to some difficult decisions on behalf of children in care.
With demand growing, the need to establish effective recruiting campaigns targeting new foster carers has probably never been greater. Additionally, the huge decrease in short breaks households means that under challenging times, foster carers often don’t have resources available to support a break from their caring responsibilities – which potentially leads to more placement breakdowns and therefore, more placements needed.
What’s the answer?
Ultimately, recruiting more foster carers would solve a number of problems for the sector but it isn’t as simple as it might sound. More applications were considered this year but conversion of completed applications to approvals decreased – although a large proportion of these were attributable to LA applications and subsequent approval rates.
It’s important to emphasise how beneficial fostering is, not just to the young people who need a home, but also to the carers themselves and others involved in the role. Enriching people’s lives through fostering is hugely rewarding, emotionally and practically. The role is challenging enough to be stimulating, whilst also being realistic and achievable – otherwise carers would not reach the stage of approval.
Foster carers always have the final decision as to whether they are able to support a particular young person referred, and the additional resources available through IFA’s like Family Care mean carers are supported every step of the way.
If you would like to give something back by supporting a young person through fostering, whilst learning a great deal and challenging yourself – please get in touch today to find out more. You won’t know until you ask. Fostering changes lives. Enquire today!
Matt Holmes – Referrals and Recruitment Coordiantor at Family Care Group
0800 5 677 677