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Foster care has been described as “the bedrock of the care system.” As at 31 March 2021, 71% of looked after children were placed in a foster placement:

  • 15% were placed in a foster placement with a relative or friend, up from 14% in 2020 and 13% in 2018.
  • 56% were placed in foster placements with another carer (not a relative or friend), down from 57% in 2020 and 60% in 2018.

Local authorities in England are under a general duty to secure sufficient accommodation to meet the needs of looked after children in their area. As part of this, authorities must have regard to the benefit of having sufficient accommodation providers in their area capable of meeting different needs, including foster carers.

Ofsted’s annual fostering statistics

Ofsted’s latest annual fostering statistics show that as at 31 March 2021, there were 45,370 fostering households and 76,640 foster carers in England, an increase of 4% since 2015. While the number of foster carers in England is at its highest ever level, however, Ofsted said this is not sufficient to meet demand:

The numbers of fostering households and foster carers in England are at their highest ever levels. Despite this, the increase in the overall number of households and carers has been slow at a time when the number of children in care is at its highest level in England…

Over the last 7 years, the general trend has been of a slow increase in numbers of places, with a 9% increase since March 2015. However, this increase has not kept up with the demand for places, with the number of children in foster care having increased by around 11% over the period to March 2020.

Although there are more approved places than children in foster care, the report added, “this does not mean that there are sufficient appropriate placements for children.”

The statistics also showed:

  • There were 160,635 initial enquiries from prospective fostering households in the year ending 31 March 2021, but only 10,145 (6%) foster carer applications were received. This proportion has decreased from 12% in 2014 to 2015.
  • While the number of initial enquiries is at an all-time high, the conversion rate of enquiries to applications is at an all-time low. Applications have decreased by 20% since 2014 to 2015.
  • During 2020 to 2021, 32% of fostering applications from prospective households were approved. This is a decrease from 2015 to 2016, when 44% of applications were approved.
  • In the year ending 31 March 2021, the number of newly approved fostering households was higher than the number of deregistered households.
  • 30% of deregistered fostering households (1,470) deregistered within two years of their approval.

In a press release published alongside the statistics, Ofsted said a “continued lack of capacity in the foster care sector is leading to vulnerable people missing out on the care and support they need.” It added:

As the number of children in care continues to grow, matching them with the right carers becomes increasingly difficult. This makes it more likely that very vulnerable children will face placement breakdowns and further disruption to their lives.

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