Foster care services under severe strain

4 Aug 10
The care system for children is in danger of collapsing under the weight of demand now placed upon it, campaigners warn today

By Vivienne Russell

5 August 2010

The care system for children is in danger of collapsing under the weight of demand now placed upon it, campaigners warn today.

The Fostering Network says the continuing rise in children being taken into local authority care following the Baby Peter case, coupled with a chronic shortage of foster carers, has put the system under unprecedented pressure. This follows reports last week from Ofsted and the National Audit Office highlighting the strain children’s services are under.

Bursting at the seams, a report from the network, says some fostering services are worried about their capacity to cope, while others are having to ask foster carers to look after children outside their area of expertise.

The demand has been particularly marked for children under the age of four, the Fostering Network says. The knock-on effect is a shortage of homes for teenagers as younger children are given priority.

Report author 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.

‘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.

‘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, society’s most vulnerable children will suffer.’

Commenting on the report, John Ransford, chief executive of the LocalGovernment Association, said: ‘The system which looks after children in care is feeling the strain – it was never designed to deal with the increase in numbers which we have experienced in the last couple of years.’

But he added: ‘It would be wrong to pretend that there are no costs involved in the changing attitudes to child protection. People are looking to all public bodies to act more quickly and more definitively if there are any doubts about a child’s safety or welfare, and that means greater numbers coming to the attention of frontline social workers than ever before.’

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