With over 6,000 children currently in care across the North East but just over 1,500 approved foster carers available (33% less than there was a year ago), there is an urgent need to recruit new carers. In a direct response to the call for more foster carers, Foster with North East – a new and first-of-its-kind collaborative partnership between 12 local authorities from across the North East of England – has been created and launches today.
Led by Sunderland City Council’s children’s services partner Together for Children, the newly launched hub seeks to support prospective foster carers in the region through their full journey, from initial enquiry, application and beyond. The hub will act as a first point of contact for those interested in fostering to help them make an informed choice about how fostering could work for them.
Backed by the Department for Education, the hub will be the first port of call for prospective carers offering a warm welcome, directing enquiries to their local authority, and providing support throughout the application process. The scheme seeks to help recruit carers from a range of different backgrounds and circumstances in the region.
The North East is also the first region in the UK to be fully signed up to the Fostering Network’s Mockingbird programme. The initiative is set to nurture relationships between cared for children, young people and foster families by bringing together six to ten fostering families who act as an extended family for activities such as Sunday lunches, sleepovers and days out, and also support each other like any other big family.
Foster with North East will also benefit from a new buddy mentoring scheme, linking prospective foster carers to experienced foster carers in their local area for further guidance and support through their assessment process.
Commenting on the launch, Jill Colbert OBE, Chair of the Foster with North East Project Implementation Board said: “There has been a decline in the number of foster carers across the North East and we as a region recognised that something needs to be done to encourage more people into foster care. Whilst we know 64% of people are inspired to change a child’s life through fostering, many don’t realise they can and, as a result, don’t make the initial enquiry. We want to bridge this knowledge gap and dispel myths around who is eligible to foster, to ensure we recruit a diverse range of carers across the region.
“Foster with North East has been launched to address misconceptions around fostering and provide crucial support to prospective carers when they need it most. With this new drive the close-knit North East region is coming together to ensure every child gets the love and care they deserve. For the first time, anyone considering fostering in the North East will benefit from a united support hub for prospective foster carers, with help available every step of the way.”
The support hub launch coincides with new research on behalf of Foster with North East that found almost half (44%) of people surveyed in the region believe incorrectly you need to be married, have children (43%) or be in a full-time job (38%) to be considered as a foster carer. An additional 38% think you need to earn over a certain amount of money per year to qualify to be a foster carer, with 40% believing carers must have a minimum annual salary of £25,000; all of which are not determining factors for foster carer approvals.
Further to this, the survey – which unearths insights into fostering perceptions and readiness – also found that people believe it takes more than two times longer (13 months) to be approved as a foster carer when, in reality, it can take less than six months. The new support hub will directly address such misconceptions to those interested in fostering. The data disclosed that 55% of respondents have a spare room in their homes, and yet, 62% have never considered fostering.
Foster with North East also follows commitments set out in the government’s Children’s Social Care Implementation Strategy, Stable Homes, Built on Love, published in February 2023*. The Department for Education is providing over £27m this Spending Review to deliver a fostering recruitment and retention programme, so that foster care is available for more children and young people who need it, with a £3.3m investment to back the North East project.
Minister for Children, Families and Wellbeing, David Johnston said: “Fostering can be challenging, but it is also hugely rewarding and can help change young lives. Across the country, we need more foster carers from all walks of life to open their hearts and homes to children and young people who have often had a difficult start to life.
We’re investing £3.3m in this brilliant partnership from local authorities across the North East, who are the first ever region in England to pilot a new support hub to recruit and retain more foster carers.”
Johnston added: “The pathfinder will also pave the way for wider rollout of the fostering recruitment and retention programme so we can ultimately help ensure more vulnerable children and young people can grow up in stable and loving homes.”
Looking at what would motivate people in the North East to become foster carers, a staggering 64% would be inspired to do so knowing they would change someone’s life, nearly half (48%) think it would be incredibly rewarding, and a third (32%) say it would give further purpose to their life.
Newcastle-based foster carer Dan Brown said, “As a young, single, gay, autistic man, I worried there’d be multiple barriers to becoming a foster carer. I was wrong, and none of those things have held me back; in some respects they are even positive attributes. I am now a short-term carer, currently looking after two amazing brothers, aged 9 and 10, and would urge anyone considering fostering, or who might be questioning their suitability, to look into it. Ask the question. Every child deserves a chance to flourish, and sharing your home, time and skills can genuinely shape their future.”
For those interested in fostering in the North East, visit fosterwithnortheast.org.uk.