Foster care initiative launched across London as 14 councils join up to meet demand

A new foster care initiative has been launched across London in a bid to meet rising demand.

More than 9,700 children in the capital are in need of a foster care placement, which works out at four children per place.

The new programme, led by Waltham Forest Council, will bring together 14 local authorities to form two new working groups: Local Community Fostering and Foster With West London.

The former will combine six northeast London boroughs: Waltham Forest, Barking & Dagenham, Havering, Newham, Redbridge, and Tower Hamlets.

Foster With West London will bring together eight west London boroughs: Brent, Ealing, Hammersmith & Fulham, Harrow, Hillingdon, Hounslow, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and Westminster.

Across those 14 boroughs, around 4,000 children are waiting for care, Waltham Forest says.

Local Community Fostering advertises “expert training,” support from current foster parents, and financial incentives.

Residents can call to enquire, with the group saying it is looking for a range of would-be adopters from diverse backgrounds.

Kizzy Gardiner, Waltham Forest’s cabinet member for children and young people, said: “The problems are far bigger than any one council can solve by itself.

“Previously local authorities would be competing amongst one another or using expensive private agencies to contract out the work. But with ever tighter budgets, we need to rethink this outdated approach and by combining our resources we can make a bigger impact.”

On top of saving money, it would also give foster carers better support networks, Cllr Gardiner added.

Over the past decade, there has been a dramatic fall in the number of Londoners signing up to be foster carers.

In 2014, there were 3,685 households approved for fostering but by the end of March 2023, there were 2,560 – an overall drop of 1,125, or around a third.

A resident must be older than 18 and be able to take care of a child “often on a full-time basis,” according to government guidance. Some councils will have additional requirements, such as being in ‘reasonably good’ health or being older than 21.

A council survey, conducted for ‘foster care fortnight,’ indicated that space could be the biggest obstacle for would-be adopters.

Almost one in three (31 per cent) of London adults said they were unlikely to become a foster carer in the next five years, citing a lack of space. A further seven out of every ten people who approach councils interested in becoming a foster carer drop out before completing the process.

Deborah, a social worker at Havering Council who adopted a six-year-old boy and now works in fostering, said it did not involve “replacing” a child’s parents.

The mother of four said: “That’s a very special role and not a title that you can take.

“But, like a parent, you will have the same expectations for them as you would your own children.

“You want them to do well, and like any parent you don’t need expertise or experience, you just need to care, have the time and a spare bedroom.

“If you don’t care, kids will see through you. Kids have an ability to see if you’re doing it for the right reasons. If you are disingenuous they can tell straight away.”

According to a YouGov Poll of 1,051 adults in the capital, carried out in April, one in five have considered fostering, but only 4 per cent had actually gone through the process.

Around 241 – roughly 23 per cent – said they would consider fostering if there was a financial incentive.

A January survey carried out by Barnardos, a nationwide children’s charity headquartered in Redbridge, found that nearly three quarters of adults in the UK were worried there were not enough foster carers to give children “safe and loving homes” – but only 7% would consider becoming a foster parent within the next 10 years.

There were 57,020 children living with foster families across the UK in March 2023.

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Sebastian Mann

Local democracy reporter