Increasing fostering capacity through housing solutions

Housing is one of the routes to increase fostering capacity, predominantly by working with existing in-house carers who could offer homes to more children but are restricted by the size / type of home they live in. The Council has, for the past 4 years, been running an innovative housing adaptation programme which has generated 15 placements to date and savings of £463k through increasing the number of rooms available for carers to take on additional children. The full potential of the programme is to deliver 29 placements and cumulative savings of £1.4m over 3 years (£5m over 7 years)

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The challenge: 

Councils have a statutory sufficiency duty requiring them to ensure that a sufficient number of local accommodation options are available for children looked after and care leavers. A national sufficiency crisis compounded by increasing costs in the external placements sector has caused significant pressures on Children's Services budgets. The lack of in house fostering capacity for sibling groups and children with complex needs means the Council is having to procure placements from the independent sector (either through an Independent Fostering Agency or residential care) at a significantly higher cost and frequently at the expense of keeping children local. 

Children who are moved away from their local support networks, change schools or travel back long distances to school are significantly disadvantaged often with damaging impact on their education, mental health and well being. 

The shortage of in-house fostering placements is further compounded by the high cost of housing in London (and other cities). Housing is often a barrier to recruitment of new foster carers, who enquire but fail to meet the space requirements for fostering. And there are existing carers who could take on additional children but are prevented due to lack of a spare bedroom.

The solution:

Increasing the number of available fostering placements by increasing the number of bedrooms available within the homes of existing foster carers who have the skills and willingness to take on additional children but who do not have the space.

The range of housing solutions offered through the programme includes; physical adaptations to create an additional room (loft conversion, garden annex, space remodeling, extension etc); re-housing carers in social housing to larger Council properties; supporting adult birth children who are ready to leave home but unable to due to lack of affordability to move into Council housing, and; in a limited number of cases providing support to carers in the private rental sector (funding and/ or help to find or negotiate their tenancy).  

Carers were invited to put themselves forward to be considered for a housing solution and subsequently assessed against a range of criteria. Three waves of application and assessment have been conducted to date with a total of 31 carers putting themselves forward to be considered. A housing solution was identified for 26 carers based on a business case particular to their circumstances. 

The impact (including cost savings/income generated if applicable): 

To date the programme has generated 15 placements and delivered savings of £463k (against a total current spend of £290k).

Over the full 7 years of the progamme’s financial plan - and assuming all 26 cases are ultimately implemented - the programme is set to deliver a total of 29 placements and £4.22m in financial savings. This represents a significant overachievement against the original targets and against a total programme budget of £590k it delivers a sizeable return on investment.

How is the new approach being sustained?:

The programme has now been “mainstreamed” with supervising social workers and foster carers able to request an assessment for a housing solution and the approach has been widened out to other groups such as kinship carers and families with a child in need, where a dedicated housing assistant is supporting these families to alleviate pressures through housing solutions. The Council is now considering how to incorporate the approach into its foster carer recruitment activity. 

Lessons learned:

  • Use formal means (but not necessarily a legal instrument) to ensure foster carers are clear about the obligations of accepting a housing solution
  • The programme to increase physical space needs to be matched by a programme of upskilling in some cases and ensure that approvals are also reviewed and updated in parallel to the housing solution
  • Work very closely with housing colleagues to ensure the selection and allocation process is understood and transparent to carers and supervising social workers so it is clearly a fair and equitable process

Contact: Helen Costa [email protected]