Recruiting foster carers is the priority for Central Bedfordshire Council’s fostering team amid a national crisis, a meeting heard.
There has been a 6% rise in the number of children coming into care in recent years, the council’s corporate parenting panel was told.
“But, at the same time, there’s been a four per cent drop in the number of foster carers being approved,” said CBC’s practice manager fostering Annie Craig.
“There is a national crisis in relation to foster carers,” she explained while presenting the local authority fostering service’s annual report.
“We have maintained our recruitment figures over the last two years, but we are still aspirational in wanting to recruit more foster carers.
“While our foster carers are doing a fantastic job, there is an urgent need to recruit more foster carers.
“Ofsted say there’s a steady downward trend in relation to the number of foster carers,” she told the panel.
“Our main priority, in the year ahead, is to recruit more foster carers and to address the shortage of in-house foster carers we have.
“We’ve prepared a two-year transformation plan with creative ways we can not only support our current foster carers, but also increase the numbers we have coming forward.
“We are looking at staff incentives to recruit foster carers. We have an enhanced financial support package for foster carers based on the needs of children.
“We want theraputic fostering,” she added. “We want a hub team supporting other carers locally.
“We want support care supporting families around the edge to prevent them coming into care.
“We haven’t had any complaints or Ofsted notifications. We have introduced new schemes, initiatives and procedures.”
There were 130 new admissions for foster care in Central Bedfordshire last year compared to 131 the previous year.
At March 31st, 56 per cent were placed in house and 44 per cent with independent fostering agencies, the panel heard.
“Fostering is a highly regulated service,” said the practice manager. “We have lots of fostering regulations and national minimum standards, and associated guidance we have to adhere to.
“We are responsible for marketing, recruitment, assessment approval, matching, supervision and training support of all CBC foster carers.
“We provide short-term and long-term fostering, as well as respite service to our carers and families.
“We have a police and criminal evidence scheme for those children who are on remand, but go into foster care rather than police cells overnight.
“Every foster carer gets an allocated social worker,” she added. “Carers have access to a comprehensive training programme.
“We provide regular support groups not just to foster carers, but also children’s foster carers.
“We provide a mentoring scheme for new carers, we have an advice and mediation service, as well as consultation events with them.”
Assistant director of children’s services Sacha Rymell said: “We are continually striving to recruit foster carers.
“It’s really important for us that we have our own foster carers who work for CBC.
“It’s a continual treadmill really in terms of a lot of what we do in employing social workers, but that also applies to foster carers.
“We continually need new foster carers to look after our children coming in, and that can be for many reasons. Foster carers retire or move away.
“It’s a constant effort from your team and your service in terms of recruitment.”
Nationally there is a concern about an ageing population of foster carers with 15 per cent due to retire during the next five years, according to a report to the panel.
“Research completed by the CBC fostering service indicated that this is not currently an area for concern locally,” said the report.
“Each year the service produces a comprehensive training programme covering a wide range of topics to help foster carers develop their skills and knowledge.”
The corporate parenting panel noted the annual report.