Foster carers feel they lack support and recognition in the role they play in children’s social care, The Fostering Network’s annual report has found.
Many carers believe they are not treated as an equal and valued member of the social care team, or that they are adequately supported practically and financially, according to State of the Nation’s Foster Care.
The 43-page report, which is based on the charity’s survey of more than 4,000 foster carers, found that six in 10 said that the allowance they were given did not meet the full costs of looking after a child.
Only 58% felt they were treated as an equal and valued member of the team by their fostered child’s social workers, while just a third felt that the provision of a short break from fostering when they needed it was excellent or good.
The report also found carers were looking after children with far more complex needs.
In the past two years, 43% have looked after a child who has either had involvement with the police, caused violence in their home or gone missing from home.
Almost half (48%) of foster carers said they were supporting children with mental health needs who were not accessing specialist support.
The report outlined several recommendations directed at the governments in all four home nations, placing authorities, fostering services, and the wider sector.
They include the implementation of a learning and development framework for foster carers, covering accredited and standardised pre- and post-approval training; a review of fostering allowances and related expenses; and a central register of foster carers in each country to help improve portability of the workforce.
Kevin Williams, The Fostering Network chief executive, said: ‘Every day foster carers are looking after 65,000 of the UK’s most vulnerable children, many of whom have had very traumatic starts to life and need expert and loving care to help them turn their lives around.
‘A decade of austerity and subsequent cuts to early intervention and key family support services have led to more children coming into care with more challenging needs. At the same time these budget cuts also mean that, at the time when they most need it, foster carers are not receiving the support, training and respect that they need to do this difficult role to the best of their ability.’
It urged governments in all four countries to ensure adequate funding and to work with fostering services and foster carers to implement the report’s recommendations.
Minister for Children and Families Nadhim Zahawi said: ‘Last year we committed to improving the support available to foster parents, including making sure they felt empowered to make the decisions necessary to support their foster children and to make sure they have access to all the formal and informal support they need. We have been and will continue to work with the sector on all of the measures we announced.
‘On top of this, we are piloting new high-quality mental health assessments for children when they enter care, are using over £3.5m through the Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme to improve support for foster families which includes peer support, and continue to fund Fosterline to provide an independent and free advice line nationally to current and prospective foster parents.’