Data from Barnardo’s doesn’t show the number of children needing foster care has grown 44%

6 July 2020
What was claimed

The number of British children who need foster care has risen by 44% during the pandemic, children’s charity Barnardo’s has warned.

Our verdict

Barnardo’s has seen a 44% rise in the number of referrals to its fostering services from councils in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. But that doesn’t mean the number of children needing foster care has risen by 44%.

“The number of British children who need foster care has risen by 44% during the pandemic, children’s charity Barnardo’s has warned.”

Daily Mirror, 22 June 2020

“The number of children needing foster care has risen by 44% during the coronavirus pandemic, creating a “state of emergency”, a children’s charity said.”

The Guardian, 23 June 2020

It is not correct to say that the number of children needing foster care has risen 44% during the pandemic, as various newspapers have claimed.

Newspapers reported this figure directly from a press release from children’s charity Barnardo’s, but it didn’t have the evidence to back this up.

Barnardo’s said that it has seen a 44% increase in the number of referrals to its fostering services between 1 March and 23 April this year in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, compared to the same period in 2019.

But that doesn’t mean there has been a 44% increase in children needing care, as Bernardo’s won’t get referrals for every child that needs fostering.

How does fostering work?

Local authorities are legally responsible for protecting the welfare of children in need. When a local authority decides that a child should be placed in foster care, it can do this either by using its own network of foster carers or working with fostering agencies that have their own networks of carers. Barnardo’s is such an agency.

A spokesperson for Barnardo’s told Full Fact: “The Local Authority would initially look at their own carers to find a suitable match before forwarding the referral onto external agencies.”

So an increase in referrals to Barnardo’s could, for example, reflect that local authorities are struggling to find enough carers within their own networks. That’s obviously still a concern, but it doesn’t definitely mean the number of children needing to be fostered in the first place has increased.

Also, it’s not certain that the increase in referrals to Barnardo’s is representative of the situation across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, being just one of many fostering agencies that work to place children in foster care. 

A spokesperson for Barnardo’s said: “it would be fair to say that it’s uncertain whether other fostering agencies have seen the same increase in referrals.”

The most recent data for England is from March 2019, and showed 56,160 children were living with foster families. This was up from 54,740 the year before. 

A DfE spokesperson said: “We have published guidance online for anyone interested in becoming a foster parent. During the pandemic we have also made it easier for councils and fostering agencies to identify potential placements, and to assess and approve new foster carers, so that children get the support they deserve without delay.”

We also asked the Local Government Association for any information it had on the number of children with foster care needs during the pandemic.

Councillor Judith Blake, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board said: “Councils continue to do an excellent job ensuring that children have access to support despite the difficulties experienced during the coronavirus pandemic.  

“Councils have been encouraging applicants from people of all backgrounds who are interested in fostering and adoption, and will continue to support those who are able to provide a stable home for children in care."

Full Fact fights bad information

Bad information ruins lives. It promotes hate, damages people’s health, and hurts democracy. You deserve better.