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  • Writer's pictureJohn Copps

Building a fostering service that works for foster carers – and provides more loving homes

Mutual Ventures has been appointed delivery partner for the Department for Education’s Fostering Recruitment and Retention Programme. John Copps looks at why it is the right time for the programme and what it is seeking to achieve.

Caring for children is the most important function of any society.

For most of us, this means being brought up by our birth parents. For those that find themselves in the care system, most of the time it falls on foster carers to provide them with a loving and nurturing home. Overall, more than seven in every ten placements for children in care are in foster homes.

From the outset, I think it is important to say that fostering is a success story in this country – even if it is something we could do even better at. There are many extraordinary families fostering children, who selflessly devote their lives, resources, and homes to provide support, stability and love to the most vulnerable children.

Over the last five years, there has been a downward trend in the number of applications to be foster carers, falling from 10,520 in 2018 to 8,280 in 2022. This leaves us with a shortfall – and not enough homes for children that need them.

The Independent Review of Social Care recommended that the Department for Education ‘launch a high profile national foster carer recruitment programme to recruit 9,000 additional foster carers’. The government responded by pledging to put love, relationships, and a stable home at the heart of being a child in care, and committing to a new centrally-funded Fostering Recruitment and Retention Programme.

The Fostering Recruitment and Retention Programme

Evidence suggests that prospective foster carers are not always getting the experience they need to encourage and support them to make it to the end of the journey and foster a child.

Taking the step to get in touch with a fostering service to express interest is a life-changing decision and huge moment for any person. This needs to be recognised and all enquiries treated in an authentic, respectful and compassionate way throughout the process. Anecdotal evidence and mystery shopping has shown this is not always the case.

The aim of the programme is to deliver end-to-end improvements in foster care services, addressing weak points in the recruitment and approval process, and improving retention through investment in the Mockingbird programme.

Working at a regional level with ‘clusters’ of local authority services, it is all about increasing the availability of high-quality foster carers in area, and providing more loving homes for our most vulnerable children.

The programme includes Fostering Recruitment Hubs which should cover the foster carers journey from initial enquiry through to application, and be a centrally-run front door across each cluster. This means having a single point of contact for those enquiring to foster, and ongoing emotional and practical advice on the approval process. DfE also wants local authorities to standardise processes and work towards agreeing common terms and conditions.

Local authorities will also be funded to develop new Mockingbird ‘constellations’, based around building strong and supportive relationships among groups of foster carers and children in an area, empowering them to support each other and overcome problems before they escalate.

Into 2024, the DfE anticipates running a centrally funded communications campaign within clusters, to drive interest to recruitment hubs and boost quality enquiries.

Our role as delivery partner

Mutual Ventures are delighted to have been appointed as delivery partner, working with the DfE and local authority clusters to provide coaching support, practical advice and challenge throughout the duration of the programme.

Our early conversations suggest a mixture of excitement and trepidation within fostering services. We look forward to working with local authority clusters and tackling the challenges that lie ahead together.

Like in fostering, we know that success in this programme will depend on relationships – between local authorities in a cluster, between individuals in local areas, and with us.

The ambition of the programme is clear and draws on an urgent need to ensure we are doing the best we can for children in care. Working with local clusters, we will put foster carers at the centre of the programme, recognising that they are remarkable and the greatest asset the care system has.

If you would like to discuss the project or this topic in more detail, please email


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