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Widespread weaknesses found in fostering support

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The fostering system is under “unsustainable strain” with widespread weaknesses in support for carers, a report has warned.

A survey of 2,530 foster carers in the UK by charity The Fostering Network found 42% believed their allowance met the full cost of looking after children, compared to 80% in 2014.

The report, published today, also found a third of carers believed social workers did not treat them as equals, while 31% said they were rarely or never given all of the information about a fostered child prior to placement.

A third of carers also said they had been referred children from “outside their defined approval range”. Of those, 52% said they had felt pressurised into accepting the placements.

A half of carers said they had experienced a placement ending when they believed it was not in the child’s best interests, with 61% of respondents reporting that there had been no review prior to the decision being made.

The report said 55% of carers would now recommend fostering to others.

When asked what improvements should be made the most popular responses were: better communication and support from the fostering service, being treated as more of a professional, and better financial support.

The Fostering Network chief executive Kevin Williams is due to present evidence to the education committee’s inquiry into fostering tomorrow.

He said: “This report paints a picture of a fostering system which is under unsustainable strain and which is being held together by the goodwill and commitment of thousands of dedicated foster carers.

“After many decades of campaigning for improvements to the fostering system we are now seeing, perhaps for the first time, an erosion of those hard-won gains.”

Around three-quarters of looked after children in the UK are being cared for by foster families.

The government is currently carrying out a national ‘stocktake’ of fostering following a report by Sir Martin Nary which found “increasing dislocation” between the types of foster carers being recruited and the needs of particular children.

The report also said the costs to local authorities of placements through private fostering agencies were significantly higher than those arranged in-house, with little difference in the quality of carers provided.

Mr Williams added: “Our fear is, that with austerity biting, the cracks within the fostering system are only likely to get bigger, and for the sake of the stability and outcomes of tens of thousands of children fostered each year this cannot be allowed to happen.”

The report called for the implementation of a learning and development framework, the creation of a centrally held register for foster carers, and a review of the minimum level of fostering allowances.

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