Hampshire County Council is one of the 155 local authorities that have been able to increase the number of foster carers despite a national shortage.

According to experts, 6,000 new foster families were needed in England to meet rising demand.

Since 2019, the number of children in care in the country has increased by seven per cent, meaning that 98,000 children are currently in care. Of those, 70,000 live with almost 55,000 foster families.

However, in the last year, more than 1,000 families decided to step down from fostering due to the rise in the cost of living and inflation squeezing families’ budgets.

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Despite the national crisis, new data from Fostering England revealed that out of 155 local authorities, Hampshire County Council was second in the list of the number of carers gained. It added 15 foster carers to its ranks in the last year, meaning there were 635 foster carers in the county.

First on the top 20 list is Lambeth, which gained 25 extra foster cares and went from having 85 in 2021/22 to 110 in 2022/23. It is followed by Hampshire and Northumberland with 15 and Southampton and Gateshead with 10.

Director of children’s services Stuart Ashley said that considering the national context, the result was “impressive” and that he felt “proud” of what the foster team achieved.

He said: “It is important to see this context nationally. We ranked number two nationally. These numbers were impressive in the context of the national recruitment crisis in foster care. I’m proud of what they achieved and continue to achieve. It should not be underestimated the impact of the cost of living crisis on foster carers.”

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In the top 10 authorities for total approved foster carer households, Hampshire was the only one to grow the number, bringing it to 365.

However, once recruited, children services faced another problem: retaining those families.

Therefore, Sarah Smith from the council’s fostering services said that despite the government setting an annual allowances guideline for councils, the local authority pays foster families above the national recommendation.

In addition, the director of children’s services said that “it is not always about the money” why people come to foster in Hampshire; it is about “the brand, the trust in Hampshire County Council, the support they get from the staff, and the quality of supervision”.

Mrs Smith said: “I’m very comfortable saying that what we pay is fair and competitive.”

To thank foster families, the council sends ‘surprise and delight’ thank you gifts to carers. These token thank-you gifts are sent to four fostering households per month.

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These initiatives allowed the council to increase activity in 2022/23, resulting in 34 fewer foster carers deregistering than the previous year, compared to 39 in 2021/2022.

To tackle retention and recruitment, the Department for Education launched a £27m recruitment and retention programme in the north-east, which began in September.

Under this programme, the South East Regional Recruitment Hub, a group of 20 local authorities in the southeast region to recruit and retain more foster carers, was awarded £4.4 million.

At the moment, Bracknell Forest Council is hosting the hub on behalf of the region. Due to the size of the group, four subgroups are being developed, of which Hampshire, Southampton, Portsmouth, and the Isle of Wight will form one.

The hub aims to create a “single front door” with a shared website and phone number and automated triage to local authorities.