The number of available foster homes in Tunbridge Wells is not keeping pace with demand, leading the County Council to describe carer recruitment as ‘reaching crisis point’.
The local authority has said it ‘urgently’ needs 200 new foster homes as it faces ever increasing numbers of children in care.
In Kent this year, 1593 children entered care compared to 899 in in 2013/14 – a 77 per cent increase in just three years.
The Council has spoken out about the behaviour of private, for-profit, fostering agencies. After spending considerable resources on training carers, private groups then often tempt them away with ‘golden hellos’.
Although, the responsibility for care still lies with the Council who then have to pay for the agency’s services.
A KCC spokesperson expressed their frustration at the situation, stressing that ‘we want people to foster with us’ rather than being drawn to private agencies, who often ‘double the cost’ of care for the child.
As well as struggles with recruitment, a majority of the children under Kent’s care are over the age of ten (68 per cent). Children of that age are usually harder to home as many people who apply for fostering would rather take in babies.
Although, agencies are looking to new methods to address this problem, with Anchor Foster Care, who work in Tunbridge Wells, recruiting older carers who specialise in looking after teenagers.
This aims to develop a ‘grandparent-grandchild’ relationship, which often avoids ‘the rivalry and friction that can sometimes occur in parent and child relationships’.
However, sometimes it is just an issue of capacity. 57 per cent of the children have siblings who also need a home. The council works to ‘help keep brothers and sisters together’ so is often limited to carers that can take them all in.
These difficulties have come amidst the refugee crisis, in which 1,400 asylum-seeking children have arrived in Kent, as exclusively reported by the Times earlier this month. However, only 81 children require foster care as the majority are over 16, so are not eligible.
And the authority’s problems were compounded last week by an independent report, which concluded that KCC is ‘not currently delivering the requirements of a good Fostering Service’. The review highlighted ‘management oversight and supervision’ as the key area in need of improvement.
Looking forward, the authority is appealing to the public to help alleviate the crisis. KCC Cabinet Member for Specialist Children’s Services, Peter Oakford, who was a foster carer for eight years, urged local residents to sign up, adding:
“We need your help. If you have ever considered fostering, now is the time to take the plunge. It is not an easy job but KCC offers all the support and training you need and it really is one of the most rewarding roles you can do.”