The warning comes with the publication of the Fostering Network's latest survey of English local authorities, which found they need another 8,200 foster carers. This is a massive 35% rise from 6,100 estimated in the charity's last survey in 2002. The Fostering Network's survey is the only measure of the shortage of carers in England.
'The government needs to take a long, hard look at the way in which foster carers are supported. Our research shows that half of UK carers remain unpaid, with two-thirds not even getting their costs covered. No wonder so many local authorities are struggling to recruit and retain carers in sufficient numbers.
'The Fostering Network believes this crippling shortage will only begin to be fully tackled when the government recognises the need for proper investment in fostering services. In particular, we're urging the government to introduce a system of national minimum fostering allowances, and to fund local authorities so they can give this rate to all carers.'
There are over 41,000 children and young people living with 32,000 foster families on any given day in England. Figures from the Department of Education and Skills show that one in four children in public care lives outside their local authority border, while one in seven lives in three or more homes in a year.
For the survey, English local authorities were asked how many foster carers they would have to recruit in order to offer placement choice to the children in their care. Placement choice means having a sufficiently wide pool of foster carers so that each child can live with a family who meets their individual needs. The survey results were calculated on the basis of responses from 97 authorities (66%).
Updated shortage figures for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be published within the next month.
West Midlands 650
East Midlands 450
*Based survey of 97 local authorities. Results rounded to nearest 50.