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Ofsted report highlights need to get matching right

While recruiting enough foster carers to meet demand is vital, more could be done to make sure matches with children are successful, new Ofsted research finds.

The shortage of foster carers is one of the most significant challenges in making successful matches for children, the report says, particularly when finding homes for groups of brothers and sisters, disabled children and teenagers. Local authorities and fostering agencies often have a limited choice, balancing what is ideal for a child with what is available.

Ofsted's study highlights the importance of getting foster matches right for children's futures, as well as keeping foster carers in the system. When matches fail, they cause more distress for children who have already faced trauma and disruption in their lives. Placement breakdowns can also lead to foster carers taking a break or deciding to stop fostering altogether.

The report finds room for improvement beyond recruitment. While researchers saw examples of good work to match children with the right foster carers, there was little in the way of wider organisational learning from successful matches.

Whilst the report accepts that 'chemistry lies at the heart of a good match', researchers found that this is not down to luck. This 'magic' can be built through good practice that encourages relationships to flourish. The best matches happen when a child's individual needs, as well as the skills and experience of foster carers, are properly understood. Taking children's wishes into account and making them feel part of the process is vital. While matches are often made in emergencies, there is more that professionals can do to give placements the best chance of success.

The report sets out the elements of a good match, including:

For the report, click here. For comment by Jenny Coles, President of the Association of Directors of Children's Services, click here.