In a letter to the new children’s minister Edward Timpson, the association said such a move would cut the number of empty placements with foster carers who are approved to take on more than one child.
Raymond Bewry, chair of the Norfolk Foster Care Association, said: “There are currently carers who can take two to three children but only have one. If the one provider they are with is not filling the places then maybe other providers can.”
He insisted that changing the current regulations would free up “thousands of placements for children in need of fostering” overnight and create competition within the fostering system, to spur fostering agencies to make sure placements are arranged swiftly.
“This practice of leaving available placements unfilled results in many children being left in the system,” the letter said. “It is our view that if the availability of existing fostering placements were taken up it would wipe out the perceived shortage of foster carers and the need for the costly annual recruitment drive.
“This observation is based on figures from Norfolk where a Freedom of Information request revealed that in August 2011 out of a total of 315 registered local authority foster carers, 76 were without placements.”
The association is also calling on Timpson to introduce better legal protection for foster carers who act as whistle blowers, and to strengthen foster carers’ right to an appeal when a complaint is made against them.
The letter has been sent to the minister to coincide with the launch of a government consultation into plans to speed up the fostering and adoption system.
Robert Tapsfield, chief executive of the Fostering Network, said he was sceptical that allowing foster carers to register with multiple providers would help keep empty placements to a minimum. However, he did back the call to strengthen carers’ rights when complaints are made against them.
He said: “We have consistently called for improved processes when investigating allegations, with proper timescales for decisions so that foster carers are not left in limbo. It is vital for foster carers to have access to independent support to help them through the processes.”
A Department for Education spokeswoman added: “We want to speed up the adoption and fostering process considerably and cut the bureaucracy that frustrates it and slows it down.
“We meet regularly with foster carers, agencies and local authorities to discuss a range of issues, including foster carers being approved by more than one fostering service, as part of this ongoing work.”