New research published by The Fostering Network highlights a desperate need for foster carers across the UK. They estimate a total of 8,370 new carers are needed to meet the demand of providing loving foster homes for some of the UK’s most vulnerable children. As TFN point out, with 13 per cent of carers leaving the service or retiring last year, there is a constant need for renewal. They also point out that the need for carers is particularly chronic for those able and willing to provide homes for teenagers, children with disabilities and sibling groups.
Even recruiting this number might not suffice. In order to properly provide children in care with the care they deserve, even more carers may be needed. TACT will soon publish the results of our recent children’s survey, where we interviewed children in our care across the UK. One of the clearest messages received from that was that young people would like to be offered a choice of placement. This makes absolute sense. We all prefer to have a choice, even for the most mundane of life’s selections. What could be more important that having a choice over who will be offering you a home and family? In order to achieve this, a greater pool of carers is needed to be able to offer a selection of suitable placement. This might not always be possible and, in some circumstances, such as finding an emergency placement, not practical. However, it is something we should always aim to offer. Achieving this will also help us meet our commitment to children in care under our international human rights obligations.
Many of TACT’s carers tell us that they had never previously thought about foster care or known much about it. Often they would hear about how rewarding it was from friends or family. We are constantly told that becoming a foster carer was the best decision they ever made. We know there must be many thousands of people across the UK who would become fantastic foster carers. We need to find them!
To do this most effectively we need to look at the recruitment practice of those offering fostering services. We are increasingly seeing carer recruitment advertising targeted specifically at recruiting carers from other agencies, offering financial inducements to transfer.
TACT recognises that we operate in a competitive environment, and that carers who are not happy with their current service may wish to find another. Our own website says we are always keen to speak to experienced carers, particularly if they can help us provide placements for young people that need the most support.
However, recruitment aimed specifically at attracting carers from other agencies simply redistributes the existing pool of carers, it does nothing to address the chronic need for new carers. Recruitment should focus on attracting new carers, particularly those who might not have considered fostering before. This is the only way we can hope to address the massive and currently unanswered need for new carers. Foster care transforms lives. We need more people to do this.