The national fostering stocktake is currently under way, and it will report to Ministers with recommendations by the end of the year. It is exploring a wide range of issues, including the recruitment and retention of foster carers, giving us a better understanding of the current situation. The House should be aware that we have invested £900,000 supporting local authorities to develop new and innovative ways to recruit and train foster carers.
I have had the privilege of meeting some of our Nottingham foster carers, and I know what an amazing job they do, often for very little monetary reward. However, local authority children’s services departments are under immense pressure—we have record numbers of young people in care, yet some departments have been forced to cut specialist support staff—and potential foster families are also under pressure, including from Government policies such as the bedroom tax. I welcome the national stocktake, but it is long overdue. What steps will the Government take to address the urgent need to recruit additional carers?
I certainly echo everything the hon. Lady says about the value of foster carers. Indeed, 74% of looked-after children are in foster care, and the stocktake will give us more information on which to base our future policy. I met foster carers last week to discuss some of the problems they face and, indeed, the support we can give them following the stocktake.
Certainly, the stocktake is part of this, and one of the most exciting developments has been the way in which innovation has been brought forward in this area. We have invested £200 million in the innovation fund, and I recommend that right hon. and hon. Members have a look at the No Wrong Door policy, which is working very well in North Yorkshire, or the Mockingbird constellation, which is a hub-and-spoke system to support foster carers dealing with some of the more difficult children.
The great thing about someone being a foster carer is that they do not need to carry out an apprenticeship, and I encourage people thinking about applying to do so. Although there is a surplus of fostering places, one of the problems we face is having foster carers with the right type of home—for example, large sibling groups are hard to place—and we have a lack of sufficiency in some parts of the country.
I pay tribute to foster carers for the amazing work they do for our looked-after children nationally. In my experience, foster placements can be challenging for the carers, depending on the needs of the children. Will the Minister outline what extra training can be provided to improve the quality of placements and of decision making?
Good local authorities do give their foster carers the support they need, and I have already mentioned the innovation funding that has helped them to do that more effectively. There are other ways in which we can help foster carers. For example, when an allegation is made against a foster carer, it can be treated it in a different way from one against a social worker or a teacher. I hope that that will be addressed by the fostering stocktake, which is being very ably run by Sir Martin Narey and Mark Owers.