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Moving Forward in Kinship and Foster Care

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4. ANALYSIS OF NATIONAL EVIDENCE AND TRENDS

Since devolution, fostering, and more recently kinship care, have become progressively more important and increasingly utilised services for children and young people in need of an alternative warm, loving, nurturing and sustained home environment. The work of the Fostering Reference Group that was established to strengthen that environment was informed by evidence gathered by Scottish Government analysts with support from The Fostering Network and Local Authorities.

A key strand of that evidence was to consider the economic and societal context within which fostering and kinship care services are delivered. This chapter was developed as part of the recruitment task group although the lessons and learning are equally valid across the entire Reference Group. The analysis below highlights some of the key drivers and influencing factors at a national level but may disguise sub-national variations that local partners may wish to explore to inform local decisions.

Population and Labour Markets

Scotland's demographics are changing but despite the media hype in the last few years they have been changing since the turn of the last century. According to the General Register Office of Scotland, the population of Scotland sat at 4.47m in 1901 peaking at 5.23m in 1971. From there it declined slowly to sit at 5.06m in the 2001 census before rising to 5.14m in 2007. Continued population growth remains a demographic challenge for the Scottish Government.

While the size of the population has remained relatively static around 5.1m since the Second World War, the structure of the population in 2007-08 is totally different to that which would have been seen just 50 years earlier with rising living standards and medical advances meaning that the current population is considerably older on average than that in 1957. As the graph below shows, the population has seen an increase in the number of older people over the last decade as well as a decline in the child population. This decline is currently projected to continue in the future although the recent increase in the birth rate may see this projection reversed.

Population Trends

To inform the work of the recruitment task group, the labour market context was also of key interest. While the working age population has remained relatively static over the last decade, it too has aged with more over forties and fewer under forties than previously. The working aged population is also projected to shrink in size and continue to age into the future. This presents a number of challenges to the economy more generally but also to sectors of the economy, such as foster care, that are potentially looking to recruit in greater numbers.

Looked After Children

In contrast to the general child population, the number of children in care has been increasing over recent years and the nature of the care has also changed. The graph below shows the number of children in care over the last eight years broken down by type of placement 1. It can be seen that the total number of looked after children in Scotland has risen from 11,309 to 14,060 since 2000 (an increase of 24%).

Within this total, the number of children looked after at home has increased slightly while the number of children in residential has remained fairly stable. This means that the majority of the increase in the number of looked after children can be accounted for by the increases in foster placements and placements with friends and relatives which have increased by 33% and 91% respectively

This rising trend has occurred at a time when, as noted above, the general child population has actually been decreasing. This means that the proportion of looked after children in the child population has risen at a greater rate.

Number of Looked After Children

In the context of Getting It Right for Children in Kinship and Foster Care it should be noted that the graph above refers only to those children officially looked after by local authorities. It is known that there are a significant number of children and young people living in kinship care arrangements who are not captured by these official statistics although there are no robust data on how many.

The 2005/06 Scottish Household Survey provides a proxy estimate for the number of children in kinship care when it found that approximately nine thousand children live with someone other than a biological, adoptive, step or foster parent as a primary carer. Of these, around two thousand are captured by the statistics presented above suggesting there may be a further seven thousand children and young people who are living in unofficial kinship care arrangements. It should be noted that there is a great deal of uncertainty around this figure but this remains the most accurate estimate.

Expenditure

Expenditure on all social services (which includes fostering) has increased steadily but significantly since the advent of devolution. Given that salaries represent the largest element of social services expenditure this has been accompanied by a significant increase in the numbers of social work services staff. However, expenditure on fostering services, including kinship care, has increased at an even greater rate over the period.

The recruitment task group also looked at the relationship between expenditure levels and the numbers of children in receipt of fostering services. It was found that total LA fostering spend has increased, in real terms 2, at a greater rate than the number of children in fostering. This emphasises that the increase in spending is not simply due to increased child numbers but also other factors such as increased expenditure on training and allowances for carers.

Foster/Kinship Carers

In relation to the number of foster and kinship carers in Scotland the work of the task groups began in something of an information vacuum as there are no official statistics in the area. However, the collaborative approach adopted by the Reference Group ensured that partners round the table were able to bring the expertise and knowledge required to offer important evidence to the group.

Partners, notably The Fostering Network, were able to provide evidence on the location and some demographics of foster carers from their internal records. A key finding of this sample analysis suggested that social care workers generally tend to be older than the overall working population but foster carers are even older again with nearly half over the age of 55. This finding suggests that recruitment strategies could benefit from looking to target younger carers than previously may have been the case. However, as highlighted previously, Scotland has an ageing population and this could present a challenge and/or an opportunity for fostering in Scotland.

The challenge is that an ageing population will increase competition in the labour market and could influence Local Authority resources in terms of care for the elderly etc. Alternatively, given that there will be an increase in the age group typically attracted to foster care the ageing of the population could represent an increase in the potential pool of labour to be attracted to the sector.

When looking to inform recruitment and retention strategies, the recruitment task group also looked at the location of foster carers and identified some very interesting findings. Unsurprisingly the analysis showed that the demand and supply of foster carers varied across the country with some authorities being net exporters of carers and other LAs having greater levels of need than they could meet within existing resources. Typically this showed that the urban centres relied to some extent on the rural hinterlands to provide the carers to address their needs.

The map on the following page shows the location of carers registered with each of Aberdeen City, City of Edinburgh and Glasgow City. It is visually striking that carers can live quite a distance from the authority they are registered with even if they aren't all active carers. This has cost implications for the authority in question but more importantly potentially distances the children from their schools, friends and families and may not be in the best interests of the child. The task group felt that this presented an opportunity to encourage greater collaborative working between LAs to prevent children being placed unnecessarily far from their home authority.

Conclusion

This chapter presents a short synopsis of the key evidence considered by the Reference Group to inform the strategy that follows and has presented some the context within which the strategy will be delivered. Constraints on resources set against no indication of falling demand will mean that efficient and effective delivery of services is more important than ever to improve the life chances for children, young people and families at risk. This analysis has presented a number of challenges for providers but equally has identified a number of opportunities.

A key conclusion of the work is that while the Reference Group benefited from the extensive evidence available to partners, a number of key gaps remain. Many of these gaps will be addressed by developments such as the individual children looked after data collection expected to be available in autumn 2009 but other gaps will remain.

Experience from this project has also shown that these gaps are unlikely to be addressed unilaterally. The Concordat and the new approach adopted by Scottish Government presents a window of opportunity and it is essential that partners and agencies take joint ownership of this challenge to ensure that these gaps are not neglected.

More detailed analysis of the trends in care can be found in the Appendix 1.

Locations of foster carers used by Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow Councils, February 2008

Locations of foster carers used by Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow Councils, February 2008