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LGA responds to Fostering Network report

Cllr Richard Watts, Chair of the Local Government Association's Children and Young People's Board, responds to the Fostering Network ‘State of the Nation's Foster Care 2016' report.

"It's impossible to overstate the importance of foster carers in the lives of some of our most vulnerable children and young people. Evidence shows that the right foster family can provide a strong protective factor to help those children achieve better outcomes in care. The findings of this report highlight the incredible dedication shown by our foster carers, and they should be recognised and rewarded for that.

"Councils take their responsibilities towards children in care and foster families extremely seriously, making difficult choices in other budget areas to enable them to increase spending on looked-after children services by £173.1 million last year, despite significant budget cuts by central government.

"However, demand is increasing significantly, with a 60 per cent rise in the number of children on child protection plans since 2008 and a need for an additional 9,000 foster families in this year alone. We cannot ignore the fact that it will become increasingly difficult to maintain this level of financial support in the face of this rising demand, and with a £1.9 billion funding gap projected for children's services in just three years' time.

"Initiatives such as Staying Put, which allows children to remain with their foster carers until the age of 21, and the resettlement of unaccompanied asylum seeking children have been well supported by councils, but shortfalls in funding from Whitehall have left significant deficits in already depleted budgets.

"The actions of some independent fostering agencies, which can charge councils more than double the cost of in-house placements while making substantial payouts to shareholders, saw more than £40 million diverted away from services for vulnerable children and into the profits of just eight independent agencies in 2014-15. We strongly believe that this money would have been better spent on improving services for foster carers across the country.

"The Government's fostering stocktake is the perfect opportunity to address some of these issues, and we will continue to urge government to take action to ensure that the fostering system is properly supported and funded.

"However, it's important that people thinking about fostering a child are not discouraged by a perception that the system is routinely failing foster carers. While we cannot ignore the concerns raised by a significant minority of carers, it is important to be clear that in the majority of cases foster carers feel that they do receive good quality support out of hours, are free to make appropriate decisions about a child's care and are treated as equals by social workers.

"The job of a foster carer is rarely easy, and it is no exaggeration to say that their contribution to improving the lives of some of society's most vulnerable children is often heroic. But it is a hugely rewarding and incredibly important role, and foster carers are changing the lives of children across the country every day. We would encourage anyone thinking about fostering a child to contact their local council and find out how they can help and, importantly, how the council can help them".

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