Foster carer numbers not keeping up with demand for places, Ofsted data shows

Record numbers of households are inquiring about becoming foster carers but the proportion that go on to make a formal application is at an all-time low, figures show.

The number of available foster carers in England is not keeping up with demand for places for vulnerable children, according to annual statistics released by Ofsted.

A record number of prospective fosterers made inquiries between April 2020 and March 2021, Ofsted said.

There were 160,635 initial inquiries – an all-time high and up 55% since 2014-2015.

However just 6% of these (10,145) led to formal applications, an all-time low and half of the proportion in 2014-15.

Of these applications, 6,850 were completed within the year and just under a third were approved.

As few as one in 25 households that inquired about becoming foster carers with private agencies went on to make an application.

This figure is one in seven for those who contacted local authorities.

At the end of March 2021, the figures show there were 45,370 fostering households in 425 agencies across the country.

These households had 76,640 approved foster carers looking after about 55,990 children.

Most foster carers were white (82%) and the most common age range was people in their 50s (40%).

The number of available places and carers has risen slowly over the past seven years, by 9% and 4% respectively.

However this has not kept pace with demand for places, with the number of children in foster care having increased by around 11% between 2014 and March 2020.

While there are more approved places than children in foster care, this does not mean there are enough appropriate placements.

Just under two-thirds of places were filled – a pattern which has been broadly stable over the last seven years.

The shortage in foster families poses “one of the most significant challenges” in finding children placements that are suitable for their needs, Ofsted said.

It said there has been an increased reliance in recent years on placing children with family and friends, which accounted for more than a quarter (27%) of local authority placements as of March 2021.

The Ofsted release also include some safeguarding data, which shows there were 930 reported incidents of physical restraint in the year to March 2021.

There were 2,600 allegations of abuse against foster carers, the majority made by fostered children.

Yvette Stanley (pictured), Ofsted’s national director for social care, said: “Today’s statistics paint a bleak picture. Foster carers make such a difference to children’s lives.

“But, year on year, we see more children coming into foster care and too few carers with the right skills to give them the support they deserve.

“How long can this go on before the care system reaches breaking point?

“We rarely see children coming into care who don’t need to be, but with the right help earlier, some may be able to remain with their families.

“We also need to urgently boost the number of foster carers, making sure they, and the children they care for, get the right support.”

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