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Care system struggles as numbers of vulnerable children rise

The care system is under extreme pressure and is struggling to cope with the numbers of children needing foster placements, according to a report published this week by the Fostering Network. Since the death of baby Peter Connelly in August 2007 there has been a continuing rise in the number of vulnerable children needing foster homes, the report warns, adding that the system is unsustainable unless more foster carers are recruited. Fostering services have reported difficulties placing children with the right families and problems recruiting enough carers to keep up with demand. There has been a marked rise in the number of children aged under four in the system, who are given priority, leading to a shortage of homes for teenagers.

Author of the report Helen Clarke said: “While fostering services had made real progress in recruiting more foster carers and finding children the right foster homes, the unprecedented pressure the system is now under has clearly pushed back much of this good work.”

“For the majority of children in care living in a family environment is the best option and we know that when foster care works it works really well. However, the impact of the rise in children needing foster homes and the shortage of foster carers means the system is no longer sustainable and budget cuts could be devastating,” she added. The report ‘Bursting at the Seams’ also found that finding homes for children with complex needs or disabilities, siblings, children from ethnic minorities or unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, as well as long-term placements, was particularly challenging. Fostering services are being forced to ask their foster carers to look after children outside of their area of expertise and new carers who have not had the time to build up confidence and skills are looking after children with more challenging behaviour than in the past. As a result, children may not get the care they need, carers are placed under immense stress and placements are more likely to break down, which can lead to poor outcomes for children. “Investment in foster care must remain a priority for both central and local government.

There needs to be a renewed sense of urgency to recruit more foster carers and to ensure the current foster care workforce is properly paid and supported. Otherwise, our society’s most vulnerable children will suffer,” Ms Clarke said.