More than 500 people interested in fostering in Sheffield but only a fraction apply
More than 500 people in Sheffield expressed interest in fostering children but just a fraction applied to do so, figures show.
A nationwide drive for thousands more foster families has been launched as part of Foster Care Fortnight.
Authorities in the city received around 520 initial enquiries about fostering between April 2019 and March last year, but just 30 applications were submitted in that time, the latest Ofsted data shows.
Social media and promotional campaigns have contributed to a growing interest across the UK but attracting and retaining suitable carers who can cope with the complexities of fostering is proving a challenge, experts say.
At the end of March 2020, there were around 305 households opening their doors to vulnerable children in the city, with an estimated 315 youngsters living with foster families.
Of those households, 85 were approved to offer permanent places, with 50 given permission to foster children of family or friends and five approved for emergency use.
But recruitment difficulties and an ageing carer population could be “storing up trouble for the future”, Ofsted has warned.
And the Fostering Network says more than 8,600 more fosterers are needed across the UK to ensure children in care are placed in safe and stable environments suitable for their needs.
Those in foster homes represent more than two-thirds of the area’s 626 looked after children, according to Department for Education statistics.
But experts are calling for more people to come forward to ensure there is a large pool of fosterers diverse enough to meet the needs of a growing care population.
There is also a particular need for foster families able to accommodate sibling groups, teenagers and disabled children.
Within the households approved for fostering in Sheffield there were around 495 carers - 64% aged over 50 - offering up to 515 places for looked after children at the end of March last year.
Figures for 2019-20 also show that 84 children in the area moved between placements at least three times.
Sadie Constable from the Fostering Network said there was a vital need for more people to come forward and provide looked after children with stability and security.
She said thousands of new carers could ensure every child in need of a foster family is placed with people who have the right skills to care for them “at the first time of asking”.
She added: “We know that multiple moves between foster homes once a child comes into care can be destabilising for them, so it’s vital that we have the numbers of skilled foster carers needed to make sure that this doesn’t happen.”
Yvette Stanley from Ofsted echoed the charity’s call for more carers, saying: “While there has been a small rise in foster carers and places over the last year, there still isn’t anywhere near enough to meet demand, particularly given the rising numbers of adolescents needing foster care.
“The difficulty in recruiting carers with the right skills and experience, while making sure they have enough support, and a potentially an aging carer population, is a mix that could be storing up trouble for the future."