Report: Foster carer retention and recruitment in England

Adult helping girl with schoolwork in the kitchen

In England today, more than 80,000 children are living in out-of-home care, 70% of them with foster families. The number of children needing care sadly continues to rise, while the number of foster carers fell last year, in an overall five-year downward trend.

With these challenges at the forefront and England’s new children’s social care strategy in place, The Fostering Network – supported by KPMG Foundation – commissioned CEI to explore what we know about retaining existing and recruiting new foster carers. The result is the report, Foster carer retention and recruitment in England.

“We gathered the views of almost 2,000 foster carers through a survey, focus groups and one-to-one interviews, and alongside this we analysed existing national data from Ofsted and The Fostering Network,” explains CEI’s Dr Ellie Ott, who led the new research.

“What foster carers told us is that feeling supported and respected for the challenging role they play is central to retaining them and to growing their overall numbers.”

Key recommendations from the research include improved allowances and better support, reducing social worker turnover, and being treated with respect as a valued member of a child’s care team.

“Nine in every 10 foster carers cite wanting to make a difference in the lives of children in care as one of their three main motivations,” says Ellie. “But financial support, social worker attitudes and administrative burdens are creating disincentives to them continuing. Just 65% of our survey respondents say they plan to continue fostering a year from now.”

“Covering costs from fostering allowances is particularly challenging for single foster carers, and the current cost of living crisis is exacerbating this issue across all groups. Many also cite frustration at feeling unsupported or even judged by their supervising social workers, particularly when issues are raised.”

“Setting realistic expectations with our recruitment communications is also key. Only about half of foster carers agree that the reality of fostering met their expectations, and a further third disagree.”

Retaining foster carers in the system is vital to building the diverse and stable pool of foster carers needed to meet the needs of children in care. Although many thousands of people enquire about foster caring each year, typically fewer than two in every 100 go on to become foster carers.

“Remarkable work is quietly done by foster carers, on behalf of the entire community, every single day,” says Ellie. “Stable, quality care helps children and young people thrive and mitigates against the lifelong risks of poorer physical, social and mental health outcomes that result from early life disruption and trauma.”

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Read more about this research

CEI’s Dr Eleanor Ott, Emma Wills, Amy Hall and Dr Sweta Gupta created this new research, led and commissioned by The Fostering Network, and supported and funded by KPMG Foundation.