Number of children needing foster care doubled during pandemic

The number of children needing foster care has risen by more than half during the Covid-19 pandemic, a charity has revealed.

From April to December 2020, the number of children in England referred to Barnardo’s fostering services rose by 57% from 8,302 to 13,030 compared to the same period in 2019.

National lockdowns, job losses and worsening mental health issues are potential contributors to the fall in foster capacity failing to meet demand. 

From 1 March to 23 April 2020, the number of enquiries from people looking to become foster parents for the charity fell from 302 to 161 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, representing a 47% drop.

‘Vulnerable families have been hit hardest by the Covid-19 pandemic, with many reaching crisis point. This means more children than ever need a safe and loving foster family to care for them,’ said Javed Khan, chief executive of Barnardo’s. 

In November, Ofsted published figures based on data submitted by local authority (LA) fostering agencies and independent fostering agencies (IFA) in England from 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2020.

Figures revealed the number of LA foster carers fell by 1,500, while it grew by 430 among IFAs. This growth was seen in private IFAs as voluntary agencies had around 100 fewer carers than last year. 

The inspectorate also found there was a 10% decrease in applications to become a carer from March 2019.

Ofsted collected data from 138 LAs and 272 IFAs, accounting for 94% of all eligible agencies. 

In October, specialist social care and education services provider CareTech reported a drop in its fostering division.

As of the end of September, capacity across the group decreased to 4,984 places, from 5,044 in March.

Fostering decreased to 1,028 (March 2020: 1,129) due to blocked beds because of Covid-19 and some foster parents leaving.

According to statistics from The Fostering Network, there were 57,380 children living with foster families on 31 March 2020, equating to 72% of the 80,080 children in care looked after away from home. There are around 44,500 foster families in England.