A loving home – best Christmas present ever

One year ago, John Lewis’ Christmas advert aimed to shine a light on the importance of foster carers, yet new figures from OFSTED have shown a loss of foster care families and an increase in children being placed far from home. Here, Nick Hodson looks at the situation and how The Department of Education plans to turn it around.

Let me take you back 12 months to the 2022 John Lewis Christmas advert. In it, a middle-aged man is on a mission to learn how to skateboard. He spends weeks trying to master this difficult skill and suffers some bumps and bruises along the way. It is revealed at the end of the advert what his hard work was all about. Along with his partner, he was expecting the arrival of a foster child, Ellie, who loves to skateboard. Ellie was nervous at first about the new house but softens when she spots the carer’s skateboard and poorly arm. His hard work was designed to make Ellie feel comfortable in her new home.

This week, new figures from OFSTED, have shown that there has been a net loss of 1,000 foster care families in the past year and a record number of children being placed far from home. Social workers have described scrambling to find friends and family to take children in urgent need of safety and reported that children are sometimes placed in hotels.

It is estimated that 6,000 new foster families will be needed to meet rising demand.

“We need a lot more foster carers,” said John Pearce, the president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services. “You used to be able to get a place quickly for younger children. But in significant parts of the country that’s not the case anymore, and that’s driven by a significant increase in the children coming into care.”

In some cases, councils lacking local foster vacancies are sending children hundreds of miles away, breaking family and school ties. There has been a 7% increase in the number of children in care since 2019 in England. But in the past year almost twice as many households quit mainstream fostering than joined. Reasons cited include the rising cost of looking after children and older foster parents choosing to quit after the pandemic.

The Department of Education is launching a £27m recruitment and retention programme, which began in September in the north-east, where demand has soared, and will spread to more than half of England’s local authorities from next April.

One of the joys of representing children is seeing the impact of a positive foster placement on the child’s wellbeing. It can provide them with the safety, stability, and love that they might been deprived of by their birth families. For older children, it can give them the best platform to enter adulthood.

Let us hope that the new campaign will bring the thousands of new families into the fostering system and that many more children like Ellie can live in safe and loving homes.

If you or someone you know is affected by the issues raised in this blog post, we can provide you with expert legal advice. For more information, please get in touch with our specialist team at hello@mcalisterfamilylaw.co.uk

  • Nick Hodson