Barnardo’s claim that the number of children needing foster care has risen by 44% during the pandemic is not correct, fact-checking charity Full Fact has confirmed.

The claim was reported by several media outlets after journalists took the figure from a press release provided by the children’s charity.

The statement said that Barnardo’s had 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.”

However, not all referrals end with a child being taken into foster care, and some of the children being referred are already inside the system and are being taken from one foster placement to another, which can happen when placements break down. (Which they do, all too often).

Full Fact does an excellent job of explaining how the fostering process works and why the statement is misleading, in its post about the claim.

The organisation tries to get information from Barnardo’s about the way the charity worded its statement, but is only able to get general comment about the way the fostering industry works.

Full Fact also asks for comment from the Local Government Association on the numbers of children who actually need fostering services during the pandemic, but the response they receive is also vague.

Full Fact asks Councillor Judith Blake, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board about the number of children with fostering needs.

“Councils continue to do an excellent job ensuring that children have access to support despite the difficulties experienced during the coronavirus pandemic,” she says.

“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,” She adds.

Statements which claim that services or levels of abuse have risen because of an increase in referrals have become common and can be described as a phenomenon because of their continued use within organisations’ press releases and their reproduction in the media.

Journalists who are not familiar with the child protection sector continue to print these statements, which are in effect a lobbying tac-tic by charities and local government bodies to try to validate their services. It is vitally important that journalists working on these issues understand the implications of printing statements which claim rises in ‘need’.

Previous claims, also reproduced hundreds of times by media outlets, include the statement that child abuse in the UK has risen dramatically during various periods, when in fact the prevalence of child abuse has remained static.

As with Barnardo’s claim that fostering need had risen by 44% during the pandemic, claims about sharp increases in child abuse refer to a rise in referrals, rather than a ‘real’ or confirmed rise in abuse.

You can read Full Fact’s report here, which was written by Abbas Panjwani.