Only one in 54 households enquiring about becoming a foster carer in Northumberland goes on to make an application, figures suggest.

Despite a record number of families making enquiries across England in the year to March, the proportion who then apply is at an all-time low – with Ofsted warning that the number of available foster carers is not keeping up with demand.

Ofsted data shows 270 households approached their council in Northumberland to enquire about fostering, but only 5 (2%) made an application in 2020-21.

This was lower than six years before, when 278 enquiries were received, with 87 (31%) households going on to make an application.

Across England, there were 160,635 initial inquiries in 2020-21 – a record high and up 55% since 2014-15.

However just 10,145 (6%) led to formal applications, an all-time low and half the proportion in 2014-15 – meaning fewer applications despite an increase in enquiries.

The figures for Northumberland only refer to applications made to local authorities, while the figures for England as a whole also include those approaching independent fostering agencies.

Ofsted warned that while the number of fostering households in England increased by 2% between 2014-15 and 2020-21, the number of children in foster care has increased by 11%, with the type of carers available not always matching the needs of vulnerable children.

Yvette Stanley, Ofsted’s national director for social care, said urgent action was needed to boost the number of foster carers.

She said: “Today’s statistics paint a bleak picture.

“Year on year, we see more children coming into foster care and too few carers with the right skills to give them the support they deserve.

“How long can this go on before the care system reaches breaking point?

“We rarely see children coming into care who don’t need to be, but with the right help earlier, some may be able to remain with their families.”

The figures show there were 180 households approved for foster care in Northumberland in the year to March, providing 330 foster places.

Of them, 40 were approved between April 2020 and March this year.

The Government said it was encouraging more people to come forward to provide foster care.