Fostering Contents



1.When a child is unable to live safely with their birth parents, the state, acting through local authorities, steps in to provide an alternative home environment. A child is referred to as ‘looked-after’ if they receive accommodation from a local authority for more than 24 hours, are subject to a placement order (which puts the child up for adoption), or are subject to a care order (which puts the child in the care of a local authority). Local authority care can include residential care, such as children’s homes, or foster care, where the young person lives in a family environment with foster carers. Unlike adoption, foster care is not always intended to be permanent, with the ultimate goal being to reunite many of these young people with their birth parents. Fostering placements can be provided directly by local authorities, or contracted out to independent fostering agencies (IFAs).

2.The number of looked-after children in England has increased steadily since 2008. As of 31 March 2017, there were 72,670 looked-after children in England. This is an increase of 3% on 2016, and of almost 7% on 2013. Three-quarters of young people in care—53,420—live in foster care.1 In November 2017 a group of leading representatives from the children’s social care sector launched a review into the rising numbers of children in care, in order to investigate the reasons for recent rises and identify changes to local and national policies and practice that could safely stem the increases in a way which achieves the best outcomes for children and families.2 One of the stakeholders participating in the review, President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, Alison Michalska, said that “a review which considers changes that could be made nationally and locally to reduce the number of children coming into care safely is long overdue”.3

3.The Government has conducted a number of major pieces of work in different areas of the care system in recent years. The Government introduced new statutory guidance on adoption in 2013,4 announced proposals to reform social work in January 2016,5 and in July 2016 published an independent review of children’s residential care. In that final review Sir Martin Narey echoed the opinion of many in the sector in stating that “Fostering is overdue a fundamental review and this should be a priority for the Department for Education”.6

4.Accordingly, in July 2016 the Government announced that it would be conducting a “national fostering stocktake”, with an aim of achieving “a deeper understanding of the current picture of fostering provision and how it can be improved”.7 In evidence submitted to this inquiry the Department for Education added that one of the reasons for the review was that “we recognise there is a lot we don’t know about the current provision”.8 Sir Martin Narey and Mark Owers were appointed to lead the Government’s review.

5.At the final evidence session of this inquiry, the Minister for Children and Families, Robert Goodwill MP, said that the review will be published in the new year.9 We look forward to the results of the Government review, and hope that, along with this report, it results in important improvements being made to foster care in England.

6.However, we raised concerns over the titling of the Government’s work. Following the response from stakeholders, the Committee strongly agreed that the impersonal and clinical nature of the term ‘stocktake’ was not appropriate given the importance and sensitive nature of the work. The Minister told us that: “To be honest, I don’t really care what we call it, as long as it does what we want it to do”.10 For the purposes of this report we use the word ‘review’, instead of ‘stocktake’.

7.We also heard concerns over the review’s engagement with young people. One young person with experience of foster care suggested that:

We need to involve young people more in these things, to get their opinions and voices heard. We need to provide a more diverse platform for that, not just a questionnaire to a couple of people on social media.11

Katy Willison, Director of Children’s Social Care, Practice and Workforce at the Department for Education, responded that this was a “fair challenge”, adding that Sir Martin had heard from a lot of children through social media, while the Minister stated that he hoped young people would give feedback on social media after publication. He believed that the problems in hearing from young people stem from “a general problem in society that young people do not necessarily get engaged”.12

8.We welcome the Government’s fostering review, as we have welcomed the recent work on adoption, residential care and social work reform, for bringing attention to an area of the care system which has often been overlooked. However, we are unsure whether separating and analysing different forms of care in this way is the best means to highlight issues and drive improvement. Individual piecemeal reviews such as the Government has undertaken in recent years overlook the fact that the care system is an interlinked and interdependent whole, and therefore make it difficult for effective changes to be made. Children move between different forms of care; the same staff and services are engaged in provision across care distinctions; and many of the same underpinning issues affect fostering as they do adoption as they do residential care. Addressing the fundamental issues currently facing the children’s care system will require a more thorough and holistic approach. We note that the Scottish Government has recently announced a root and branch review of the care system in Scotland, which will look at the underpinning legislation, practices, culture and ethos.13

9.The Government must ensure that its review of the foster care system is considered in the context of the wider children’s social care landscape. The value of the work the Government has undertaken so far on different forms of care will be undermined if they are not viewed and considered as part of a whole, interlinked system. The Government should conduct a fundamental review of the whole care system, recognising the relationships between different types of care, addressing wider underpinning issues, and ensuring that the care system is fulfilling its purpose.

Our inquiry

10.Our predecessor Committee launched an inquiry into fostering in October 2016, with the following terms of reference:

11.Over 100 pieces of written evidence were received in response. Three oral evidence sessions were held in early 2017, before the inquiry was interrupted by the general election. We chose to resume the inquiry in September 2017, holding two further evidence sessions in the autumn.15 We thank our predecessor Committee and its former Chair, Neil Carmichael, for their valuable work.

12.Witnesses to this inquiry included representatives of major fostering and children’s charities and organisations, local authorities and independent foster care providers, Ofsted, academics and researchers, the leaders of major organisations within children’s services, and the Minister for Children and Families, Robert Goodwill MP. We also benefited greatly from hearing directly from current foster carers and young people with experience of foster care. We thank all of our witnesses for their time and their contributions. We also record our thanks to Action for Children and The Adolescent and Children’s Trust, who held a seminar with our predecessors in Westminster with foster carers and young people to contribute towards our inquiry, and to Professor David Berridge, Professor of Child and Family Welfare at the University of Bristol, who acted as a specialist adviser on children’s services issues to our predecessor Committee.

1 Department for Education, Children looked after in England (including adoption), year ending 31 March 2017, 28 September 2017, pp 8–9

2 Family Rights Group, ‘Care Crisis Review’, accessed 14 December 201 7

3 Children and Young People Now, ‘Major review to investigate rising numbers of children in care’, 14 November 2017

4 Department for Education, Statutory Guidance on Adoption, July 2013

6 HM Government, Residential Care in England, July 2016, p 33

8 Department for Education (FOS0086), para 6

9 Q104

10 Q112

11 Q150

12 Qq111, 153; We noted that two days after this evidence session Sir Martin Narey invited responses from young people on Twitter.

13 Scottish National Party, ‘Nicola Sturgeon’s address to #SNP16’, published 15 October 2016; Scottish Government, ‘Launch of independent Care Review’, published 30 May 2017

14 Education Committee, ‘Fostering in England inquiry launched’, 7 October 2016

15 As a result, references in this report to oral evidence taken as part of this inquiry before the previous Committee are footnoted with reference to the previous Parliament: e.g. Q1, HC (2016–17) 681.

21 December 2017