Foster care in trouble. There are more and more children coming into care, and many of them have increasingly complex needs. There is also a chronic shortage of foster carers across the UK. With the reality of severely reduced local authority spending lurking around the corner, the system could collapse.
The increase in the number of younger children coming into care has come about after the death of Baby Peter. In addition, a recent clarification of the law around homeless teenagers means that there are now more needing foster care. This comes at a time when there is already a shortage of at least 10,000 carers, putting the system under unprecedented pressure.
The Government is asking local authorities to make massive cost savings and it seems inevitable that some children's services budgets will be cut. However, foster care is already a drastically underfunded service and any budget cuts will have a devastating impact. This means that more children will experience significant disruption, adding to the trauma that has brought them into care in the first place. Unless urgent steps are taken to increase the recruitment of foster carers and to improve support then the system will become unsustainable.
To recruit more foster carers we need to recognise the skilled work they do and the enormous commitment that we ask of them and their families. Foster care has changed dramatically over the last 30 years. It used to be considered an amateur task – now it is a skilled role which demands professional standards.
We need to respect them, recognise their skills, and give them more responsibility to make day-to-day decisions for the children they foster. Fostering services will also have to look closely at what they pay them, as we know that many potential carers cannot afford to foster and two-thirds have considered giving up because of the low fees. Nobody should foster for the money, but, like the rest of us, they need an income.
The writer is chief executive of the Fostering Network