Threat of cuts could cause crisis in foster care facilities

Julie Coghill was 23 and about to start a social work degree when she became a foster carer "almost by accident".

She had a few months to go before her university course was due to start when she saw an advert appealing for respite foster carers.

That was 13 years ago. Julie gave up her university place and instead has cared for around 50 children – mainly babies suffering from medical problems because their mothers were drug addicts.

Julie, from Edinburgh, said: "It is a very, very rewarding job. I get an enormous amount of job satisfaction. I pretty much work 24 hours a day seven days a week but the good points far outweigh the bad. I imagine I'll still be doing it in 30 years' time."

But Julie is unusual. A crisis is looming in the foster care system. There is a shortage of 10,000 foster parents and a demographic time bomb means that two thirds are approaching retirement.

The massive increase in care applications since the Baby P case has also put the system under increased pressure.

Local authorities are reporting that the situation is the worst it has ever been, with no beds available at all in some areas and not enough foster families with specialist skills needed to look after children with complex needs. In March, 832 care applications were submitted to the family courts – the highest figure ever recorded. In 2009-10 there were 8,684 care applications compared to 6,496 the previous year, a rise of 33.7 per cent.

The latest official figures for March 2009 showed a 5.2 per cent rise in the numbers of children living with foster families in England and Wales compared to the same month the previous year.

The chronic shortage of foster families means that too many traumatised and vulnerable children will be moved from home to home, forced to live miles from their friends and family and to be separated from their brothers and sisters. The resulting disruption and instability can be extremely damaging to children and can harm their longer-term ability to make and maintain relationships and to succeed at school.

There are an estimated 72,000 foster carers in the UK, with almost two-thirds aged 50 and over. Only 6 per cent of foster carers are in their 30s, 29 per cent in their 40s, 38 per cent in their 50s, 24 per cent in their 60s and 3 per cent in their 70s.

Robert Tapsfield, chief executive of the Fostering Network, fears that the situation could be made worse by any cuts in next week's emergency Budget. He said: "Services for children in care have been underfunded for too many years and to make cuts will mean a foster care system will be... unable to cope.

"When foster care works, it works really well, and outcomes are improving. However, children in care are still over-represented in prison populations, more likely to suffer from mental health problems or be homeless. Failure to maintain funds and invest in good quality foster care is a false economy.

The Fostering Network is calling for an additional £580m across the UK to ensure that foster care is properly funded including better pay, support and training for foster families.

Martin Narey, chief executive of the children's charity Barnado's, said: "The Government needs to urgently invest in a hard-hitting national recruitment drive for foster carers, it is past overdue."

Case study: The best job in the world but it pays less than minimum wage

Michele Sutcliffe loves being a foster carer but she can understand why there is a recruitment crisis in the profession.

Michele, 46, of Weaverham, Cheshire, has fostered children for the past 15 years with her husband Paul, who gave up work five years ago to be a full-time carer. They have two children of their own, aged seven and three, foster an eight-year-old girl and also offer emergency and respite placements. They receive a fee of £130 a week.

She said: "People do not go into fostering for the money but equally when one of you gives up work to support these children for less than the minimum wage it can be very difficult.

"I know people who have left fostering to work in Sainsbury's or B&Q just because they can't afford it any more. That's very sad because fostering is the best job in the world. The children are absolutely wonderful and you want to get them as much help and support as possible. Because the children are left at home for longer nowadays they have more difficulties than when I first started fostering.

"I think people are put off because of the money and because they are worried they won't get the support they need."

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
New Articles
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering