Gloucestershire is confronting formidable challenges in recruiting foster carers, as the number of children in care has surged by almost a third over the past six years. Recent statistics indicate a rise from 657 in March 2017 to 869 in March last year, marking a substantial 32% increase.
The Gloucestershire fostering service, working in tandem with the placement commissioning service, collaborates closely with children’s social worker teams to identify suitable homes for children and young people in need of foster care. However, a report presented to county councillors reveals that only 60.5% of those seeking a foster family were successfully placed, reflecting a 5% decrease from the previous year.
A notable trend outlined in the annual fostering report is the national uptick in the use of kinship fostering arrangements. This trend is mirrored in Gloucestershire, where the county has witnessed a net increase of 22 fostering households, including 30 new general foster carers and 40 kinship foster carers.
Despite this positive growth, challenges persist as experienced foster carers retire or exit the service, often citing personal circumstances influenced by the impact of Covid-19. This has resulted in a cohort of less experienced foster carers requiring enhanced support and development, particularly when caring for the most vulnerable children.
During the children and families overview and scrutiny committee on January 18, Councillor Roger Whyborn expressed concern about the “bleak” landscape of fostering recruitment in the county. Seeking insights into the reasons behind foster carers leaving, he questioned whether issues such as pay or other major concerns needed attention to boost recruitment.
Council officers responded, asserting that pay was not a primary issue. Instead, factors such as the cost of living and the financial challenges of raising children might be contributing to the decline in foster carer recruitment. Tammy Wheatley, Head of Service for Fostering at Gloucestershire County Council, emphasized the need to ensure that foster carers can provide adequate care to vulnerable young people.
Wheatley clarified the fairness and competitiveness of the payment structure, stating, “Our remuneration is equitable and aligns with many fostering agencies. We consistently increase fees and allowances annually in accordance with DfE recommendations.” Despite this, challenges persist, and Councillor Whyborn admitted not understanding what measures would effectively encourage more foster carer recruitment.
Ms. Wheatley responded, acknowledging that while offering more financial incentives might be appealing, societal complexities and community dynamics play a role. The cost of living, financial capability to raise children, and having a spare bedroom for fostering were highlighted as crucial factors. She emphasized the need to educate the community, asserting that anyone with a spare bedroom, a clean record, and above 21 years old could potentially foster.
The council’s recruitment criteria specify that individuals over 21 with spare room(s) in their homes can become foster carers. There is no upper age limit, as long as individuals are active and in good health. The challenge remains in addressing the multifaceted issues contributing to the decline in fostering recruitment and creating awareness about the potential for diverse individuals to make a positive impact on the lives of vulnerable children in Gloucestershire.