The number of foster carers in England increased “only slightly” this year despite demand increasing to record levels, a major study has revealed.
The figures, published by Ofsted, show that the system is close to breaking point, with children and teenagers with disabilities finding it increasingly difficult to secure fostering placements.
According to independent fostering agencies (IFAs), the number of foster carers in England increased by just 330 households and 560 places between 01 April 2019 and 31 March 2020.
Local authority (LA) fostering agencies, meanwhile, reported a net loss of 230 households and 490 places.
Combined, it means that there has been just a three per cent increase in the number of filled fostering places compared to a 13 per cent decrease in the number of vacant places – suggesting demand is quickly outstripping supply.
The average age of foster carers is also rising, with 65 per cent of all approved foster carers over the age of 50 and 25 per cent over the age of 60.
Commenting on the statistics, Ofsted said the findings underline the “difficulty local authorities and fostering agencies face in making good matches for children”, adding that “a lack of carers with the right skills and experience is proving to be the most significant barrier to getting a good match” – especially where groups of brothers and sisters or disabled children and teenagers are concerned.
“Although today’s statistics show a small rise in foster carers and places, there still isn’t anywhere near enough to meet demand. The difficulty in recruiting carers with the right skills and experience, along with what is potentially an aging carer population, is a mix that could be storing up trouble for the future,” said Yvette Stanley, Ofsted’s National Director for Regulation and Social Care.
“Combined with the urgent need for more residential provision, ensuring a sustainable system, with a pool of carers and homes that meet children’s increasingly complex needs, has to be a priority for the forthcoming Care Review.”