The number of children needing foster care has risen by 44% during the coronavirus pandemic, creating a “state of emergency”, a children’s charity said.
Meanwhile, the number of people looking to become foster carers has fallen by almost half over the same period, Barnardo’s added.
There were 2,349 referrals to the charity’s fostering services between March 1 and April 23 this year in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, up from 1,629 in the same period in 2019.
And just 161 people inquired about becoming a foster carer during the two months, down 47% from 302 across the same period in 2019.
The charity says vulnerable children who may have experienced neglect or abuse are now in a state of emergency as they wait to be placed with foster families.
Barnardo’s chief executive Javed Khan said: “The coronavirus pandemic has hit vulnerable families the hardest, with many reaching crisis point.
“This has created a state of emergency, as more children than ever need a safe and loving foster family, while fewer adults are coming forward as potential foster carers.”
The charity says the Covid-19 outbreak has increased pressures on families who are experiencing job losses, deepening poverty and worsening mental health.
Children have also been in lockdown in homes where domestic and sexual abuse is taking place.
At the same time, inquiries from people looking to foster have dropped, with many people’s situations affected by the virus, and amid an uncertain future.
Mr Khan added: “Today, there are hundreds of children who have been referred to Barnardo’s and are waiting to be placed with a foster family.
“If you’re over 21, have a spare room and the time and commitment to support a child in need, please do consider getting in touch today.”
The charity is appealing for adults, including single people, people identifying as LGBTQ and those from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, to get in touch if they can help.
Foster carers will be supported by the charity with training and a dedicated social worker, and will receive financial support.
A Department for Education spokesman said: “Foster carers make a lifelong difference to the lives of the vulnerable children when they need it most. We encourage more people to come forward, both now and in the future, so there are enough foster carers available at the right time and in the right place to provide safe, loving homes for these children.
“We have published guidance online for anyone interested in becoming a foster parent. During the pandemic we have also made it easier for councils and fostering agencies to identify potential placements, and to assess and approve new foster carers, so that children get the support they deserve without delay.”