The wellbeing of thousands of children living in foster care is being threatened by government cuts to local authority funding, according to the findings of a damning new survey from The Fostering Network.
A survey of foster carers in England found that local authority funding cuts are having a real and “negative impact” on foster carers and children living in care.
Foster carers reported increased difficulty in accessing practical and financial support, while fostered children’s access to social workers and mental health services have also been negatively affected.
Almost two-thirds of foster carers (70%) reported that their fostering allowances had been hit by funding cuts, with some local authority forced to freeze allowances for a number of years.
Some foster carers said they were now expected to pay additional costs such as mileage, equipment, and breakages out of their own pocket – which had previously been covered by an additional allowance – leaving many with less money to spend on the children they care for.
Nearly three-quarters (73%) of foster carers surveyed for the study said cuts have had a negative impact on the fees they receive for fostering.
69% said it was more difficult for fostered children to see social workers. 60% said the support they had received from social workers has been affected as a result.
One foster care included in the survey said: “My monthly visits have been cut to once every two months with a telephone call in between, and the timing of visits seem rushed and you can’t explain your needs in the time given.
“They have too many cases to look after.”
67% said cuts had impacted negatively upon their and their fostered child’s access to other services, including respite care and mental health services.
“We have fostered for over 25 years and cared for well over 300 young people and the service has never been in a worse position to deliver young people with a good care service”, a foster carer said.
Another added: “For 18 months there was no training officer to save money. Poor training offered. Now there is a person in post, but at reduced salary. As foster carers we have provided our own at a cost to ourselves.
“Mental health issues are prevalent in our children, but access (to services) is only usually forthcoming after either a serious incident or placement breakdown, which in turn makes things more traumatic and ultimately more expensive too!”
Kevin Williams, chief executive of The Fostering Network, said: “We are extremely concerned that so many foster carers feel that recent cuts are having a negative impact on their fostered children’s access to the support and services that they so vitally need.
“The wellbeing of thousands of fostered children is under threat.
“This is worrying enough in itself. But equally worrying is the drop in the support – both practical and financial – being offered to foster carers to enable them to provide stable and loving homes to these children.
“The Fostering Network has fought long and hard to ensure that all foster carers even receive an allowance to cover the costs of looking after the children in their care. To think that this progress is in danger of being eroded and that foster carers will be forced to subsidise the care of these children or that children will go without is truly shocking.
“With a steady rise in the number of children coming into care, and the recent cuts in local authority budgets, the results of this survey are a call to action for Government to recognise both their role as corporate parents of children in care and the vital part that foster care plays in giving these children loving homes and the best chance of a successful life.
“We therefore urge them to fund local authorities to ensure that foster carers are fully supported to take on the task they devote their lives to doing and for which there is an increasing demand.
“It’s basic economics – invest in our children when they need it most, and they will pay you back for decades and generations to come.”
Cllr Richard Watts, Vice-Chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said: “Looking after children is one of the most important jobs a council does, and the work of trusted foster parents to provide care and a loving family to vulnerable children is paramount.
“Councils have worked hard to protect front-line children’s services with spending on children and family services increasing between 2010 and 2013. Unfortunately, this has still amounted to a reduction in real terms, and didn’t take into account increasing demand, particularly in high end child protection services.
“More than 20,000 extra children, an increase of more than 60 per cent, are now receiving intensive support through child protection plans than eight years ago.
“These pressures have left challenging choices elsewhere, and this report highlights some of the difficult decisions councils are forced to make every day.
“There are no easy choices as councils try to balance the immediate need to safeguard a child with the clear benefits that can come later from investment in vital support services and early intervention. It is increasingly difficult to do both at a time of falling budgets and rising demand.
“Between 2010-11 and 2019-20, early intervention funding from the Government to local authorities will have fallen from more than £3.2 billion to less than £1 billion.
“In the context of reduced funding for local government and a significant increase in demand for children’s services, we urgently need to reform how funding is allocated across local services to stop families and children from reaching a crisis point in the first place, while protecting spend on essential high-end child protection services.
“Too many children are still unable to access dedicated mental health support when they need it, and it is vital that the system is joined-up to make sure that any child experiencing mental health issues gets the most appropriate support as quickly as possible.”