Agenda item


Purpose:To understand whether Surrey County Council’s current strategy to recruit and retain foster carers will be successful in improving the sufficiency of homes for Looked After Children. 




Clare Curran, Cabinet Member for Children and Families, Lifelong Learning

Tina Benjamin, Director – Corporate Parenting

Matt Ansell, Director – Family Resilience & Safeguarding

Jo Rabbitte, Assistant Director – Children’s Resources

Sam Morris, Secretary to Surrey County Fostering Association (SCFA)

Key points made in the discussion:

  1. The Director of Corporate Parenting shared that eight households had been approved as foster carers since the submission of the report, with more to go through the assessment process. If all were successful, there would be a further 26 general foster carers and 43 kinship foster carers in Surrey by the end of the financial year.


  1. The Secretary to Surrey County Fostering Association (SCFA) noted that they had been working closely with the Service to make a foster carer charter to help foster carers feel valued and regarded as working in partnership with the Service. The Secretary shared a feeling widely held among foster carers that not all social workers understood what foster carers were managing on a daily basis, in addition to their birth families and jobs, and would like new social workers to undergo training in order to foster realistic expectations. They should be treated like colleagues, especially with respect to booking meetings. Foster carers were expected to conduct transport for the children’s contact hours with their birth families, something that had continued after the pandemic, adding more pressure. She said as the people who often know the children best, foster carers would like to be more involved in the decision-making process. The Secretary also shared that carers would like to have paid respite and enjoy rights afforded to normal full-time employees such as paid leave. They would also like to see greater support from mental health services for foster children.


  1. A Member asked the Council what they specifically could do to encourage Surrey foster carers to stay in their roles. The Assistant Director for Children’s Resources said that they could be invited to the retention and recruitment board for foster carers, which would give them a platform to voice concerns.


  1. The Secretary to the SCFA noted that fostering was seen as a middle-class role by some people in Surrey and the narrative had to change to debunk that myth and advertise the financial benefits of fostering. Word of mouth was the most important factor to improve recruitment. It was her view that the support given to foster carers by Surrey County Council was better than Independent Fostering Agencies and that this should be promoted.


  1. The Director for Corporate Parenting explained there had been an overview of competitors’ benefits in 2023. Fees and allowances were raised significantly for the first time since 2019 and there was a built-in annual inflation-linked increase. Paid leave had not been considered but could be investigated and costed. The Cabinet Member for Children and Families, Lifelong Learning said she could take that under consideration but that the interests of children and young people were the upmost priority.


  1. The Chair asked how the Service could improve how children’s social workers interact with foster carers. The Director of Family Resilience & Safeguarding invited representation from the SCFA to come to leadership meetings and discuss how to improve communication and support for practitioners.


  1. A Member asked how the Directorate planned to drive forward and implement the draft foster carer charter. The Assistant Director for Children’s Resources said the Service hoped to launch the charter in Foster Care Fortnight in May.


  1. A Member asked how the Service planned on embedding the communication strategy and improving relations. The Director of Family Resilience & Safeguarding said he also had several examples of foster carers complimenting the excellent practice of social workers and he would be providing examples of best practice across the Service. The Director for Corporate Parenting added that when children were reviewed by Independent Reviewing Officers they could make sure the foster carer’s voice is heard in the planning, something already happening in some cases. The Director for Quality and Performance said foster carers were rarely invited to child protection conferences and should be.


  1. A Member asked what could be learned from Hampshire and Sutton local authorities’ recruitment success. The Assistant Director for Children’s Resources said they had a larger marketing budget and although they generated a high number of enquiries, Surrey’s conversion rates were comparable.  Surrey was now part of the Department of Education funded programme to recruit and retain foster carers as part of a £2.6 million recruitment hub in the South East running from May 2024.



  1. Director – Corporate Parenting to inform Committee what the target is for Foster Carer recruitment and how this compares with predicted performance for the next three years.


  1. Assistant Director – Children’s Resources to provide a written response on what strategies Hampshire and Sutton are pursuing in order to have achieved a net increase of foster carers last year (as shown in appendix 3).



There is no doubt that SCC is committed to increasing the number of Surrey foster carers, and to ensuring that foster carers come from as wide and diverse a demographic as the children that Surrey cares for. Improving sufficiency has many advantages for all parties: children and young people, foster carers and foster families and Surrey County Council. To achieve this objective, the Children, Families, Lifelong Learning and Culture Select Committee recommends that:

1)    The Children and Families Directorate drives forward the Surrey County Fostering Association (SCFA) Foster Carer Charter, with the goal of agreeing a final version by Foster Care Fortnight in May 2024 and developing an implementation plan by the end of October 2024. 

2)    The Service actively considers the following 15 points that SCFA (those currently doing this difficult job) believe would improve recruitment and retention:


  1. Involve foster carers in decision-making meetings to reinforce a partnership approach to fostering between foster carers and SCC/commissioned services.
  2. Create a culture where children’s social workers (and other professionals) regard foster carers as colleagues to engender a relationship of mutual trust and respect.
  3. To foster an understanding of the foster carer role, the demanding daily lives of foster families and their lived experiences, perhaps ASYEs could shadow a foster carer or SCC could work with the SCFA to create a training course or webinar.
  4. Make SCC’s policy that foster carers’ emails are answered within a set SLA (suggested 72 hours) and social workers on duty are required to respond within 30 minutes to phonecalls and emails.
  5. Conclude Standards of Care and Allegations of Harm investigations within an appropriate timescale.
  6. Work with SCFA to update the Skills to Foster course to better prepare new carers and empower their voice.
  7. Centralise Gateway to Resources personnel to ensure they know carers, enabling a more child-centred matching approach. 
  8. Work with the SCFA to consider and cost giving paid annual leave to foster carers in line with neighbouring LAs and IFAs. 
  9. In collaboration with the SCFA, improve functionality of the Olive training platform, which is very difficult for foster carers to access and use.
  10. Review the transport to contact policy to consider returning to the pre-Covid situation where contact supervisors provided transport for CYE on contact visits.
  11. Social work Assistant Directors to join the Foster Carer Recruitment and Retention Board.
  12. Create a Surrey Offer that better promotes the support offered by SCC that is unrivalled by IFAs.
  13. Provide the services of a benefits and tax advisor when required.
  14. Publicise that it is not necessary to be a homeowner, and make it known to prospective carers who may be on benefits, including kinship and connected carers, that it is possible to be a foster carer on benefits without benefits being significantly impacted.
  15. Introduce a retention scheme with bonuses or a letter of recognition from the SCC Director for certain milestones.


3)    Safeguarding and Corporate Parenting set up a working group, comprising children’s social workers (representing each quadrant) and foster carers, and empower it to explore how relationships between these key stakeholders in the fostering process could be improved, and to develop recommendations for implementation by the end of September 2024.

Supporting documents: