Fewer carers are available to foster vulnerable children in East Sussex, new figures show.
A charity, The Fostering Network, has spoken out about the challenges facing foster carers, with the majority saying their allowance does not cover the cost of fostering.
At the end of March 2018, 350 children were in foster care in East Sussex, the most recent Ofsted data shows, 5 more than a year previously.
Meanwhile, the number of carers approved to foster them decreased, to 490 – 25 down on March 2017.
In total, there were 595 places available for foster children in East Sussex last year.
Across the country, the number of approved foster carers has dropped each of the last two years - there were around 73,500 last March.
But demand on the service has continued to increase, with more children in placements each year. There were more than 53,000 children in care last March, five per cent more than in 2012-13, for when numbers are first provided.
In a recent report, The Fostering Network said that limited support for foster carers and a lack of recognition for their work risked undermining the care they could provide.
In a survey of 4,000 foster carers across the country, six in 10 said that the allowance they were given to spend on foster children was not sufficient, meaning they had to dip into their own pockets to cover costs.
The report also highlighted the often complex needs of foster children, with 43% of carers looking after a child who had had contact with the police, caused violence in the home, or gone missing in the last 12 months. For other parents, it was just eight per cent.
The Ofsted figures show that one in 18 children in foster care went missing in East Sussex in 2017-18 – with those going missing doing so an average of three times over the year.
The Fostering Network’s chief executive, Kevin Williams, said: “Every day foster carers are looking after 65,000 of the UK’s most vulnerable children, many of whom have had very traumatic starts to life and need expert and loving care to help them turn their lives around.
“A decade of austerity and subsequent cuts to early intervention and key family support services have led to more children coming into care with more challenging needs.
“At the same time these budget cuts also mean that, at the time when they most need it, foster carers are not receiving the support, training and respect that they need to do this difficult role to the best of their ability.”
In East Sussex, 595 households enquired about becoming foster households in 2017-18. Of them, 15 became approved applications, and 25 applications were still in progress on March 31.
Joseph Hook, data reporter