Highland Council agrees increase in payments to foster carers
Highland Council has agreed an increase in payments to foster carers after a campaign waged by a local councillor and latterly an MSP.
Members approved the substantial increase at Monday’s full meeting of the local authority to recognise “the valuable role of foster carers in providing a home and care”.
Earlier, MSP Kate Forbes hit out at the council for allowing children to be looked after hundreds of miles from home and urged it to save millions by placing them in the Highlands.
Inverness councillor Andrew Jarvie had lodged a similar motion at the budget meeting in February that would have increased the payment.
At the time, the council was not ready to make it part of the budget but shortly afterwards brought it on board and conducted meetings to develop the current policy.
Councillor Jarvie feared that Highland Council’s system discouraged people from becoming foster carers because it would be a financial burden but the new system seeks to change that.
Now, from January 1, fosterers will get a fee per child and an increase in that fee by 20 per cent in a move that is seen as crucial to maintaining the service and is viewed as a spend to save.
The £500,000 investment in foster care would help increase the number of available placements in Highland by up to 20 and reduce the burden of more expensive placements of finding fostering services in the private sector.
In the last year, 42 children have returned to Highland or been able to remain in the area through the programme, avoiding costs of over £6 million.
Councillor Jarvie said: “This is really good news, but this is only just the start. I uncovered that Highland Council was the lowest-paying authority in the whole UK in December 2017, so it has been a long and tough campaign to get here today. This is a hugely welcome start to the foster service transformation, but it is only just a start.
“The payment is split into two elements, the fee and allowance. The fee is recognition that what you are doing is effectively a job as many foster carers take more time off work to take the children to various appointments. The allowance is simply what you are supposed to raise the child on.
“The council knows from its own data that the 30 per cent of people who enquire about fostering don’t go further because the allowances and fees are so low.
“The increase will go some way to hopefully making the cost of bringing up a foster child more reasonably for many families. My target is still to raise the allowance up to the level recommended by the Fostering Network which is nearer double the current rates.”
MSP Kate Forbes has also welcomed the move to increase its foster carer payments following her own campaign for improvements earlier in the year.
The MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch has consistently urged the local authority to do everything in its power to keep Highland children in the region.
She also launched her own investigation that revealed kids were being placed with carers hundreds of miles away from home, leading her to call on the council to consider becoming foster carers and reducing the council’s seven-figure out-of-area spend.
Miss Forbes said: “I am delighted that Highland Council has listened to the consistent calls of foster carers and is now going to implement some of the suggestions that were made earlier in the year. I hope these will in turn benefit some of the most vulnerable children in my constituency.
“Money does not attract foster carers to open their homes and lives to young people, but it can make the difference to retaining and supporting carers adequately.
“It costs money to be a foster carer, not just to care for the child or young person, but also if a carer needs to be at home full time and so cannot work. Reconsidering financial support could help to retain some carers who are struggling to make ends meet and care for young people.”