Fostering in crisis after number of children in care rockets

Scotland’s foster chiefs have warned of an acute shortage of carers, as the number of children in care continues to rise.

A lack of suitable adults across the country has left more youngsters than ever before stuck in the care system, putting it under extreme pressure.

Sara Lurie, director of the Fostering Network Scotland, said yesterday: “The shortage of foster carers and the rise in children coming into care means it is harder for fostering services to find the right homes for children. We urgently need more people to come forward to offer local homes to local children. Now is the time to care.”

Nearly 16,000 children are currently being cared for by the state – a 33 per cent rise in little over a decade. A widening gulf is emerging between the number of foster families available and those in need of being re-homed. Just 3,300 fosterers are able to take in youngsters nationally.

Ken Macintosh MSP, Labour spokesman for education and lifelong learning, said: “It is of great concern that there has been an alarming rise in the number of children coming into care and that this has not been matched by the number of parents coming forward to foster a child. It takes time to train and clear parents to become foster carers. The government needs to act.”

There is now a shortage of 1,700 foster carers, and there are more children than ever in the care system. Between 2005 and 2009 there was an increase of 27 per cent, or more than 1,000 children. The shortage means children can be moved too far from home, separated from siblings, placed with someone who is not a good match for them, or – specific to Scotland – live in a house with a large number of unrelated fostered children.

Foster families in England and Wales are limited to caring for a maximum of three children at any one time, while north of the Border there is no upper limit.

More foster carers would enable local authorities to find the right home for each child, providing them with the stability and security they need.

Mr Macintosh, who has previously called for a cap on the number of children a foster family can be entrusted with, added: “It is worrying that some foster parents are being asked to care for four, five, or even six children at a time – a situation that would not happen in England and Wales.”

One of the reasons for the big increase in the number of children in care is a rise in parental neglect and cruelty. Around eight in ten youngsters who now come before the Children’s Panel system do so because they are victims, as opposed to offenders. This represents a major turnaround in the past 20 years.