SCOTTISH Borders Council is considering paying more in fees and allowances to foster carers in a bid to address a shortage and boost recruitment.
But simply upping payments to families who fulfil this vital role for which there is increasing demand is no panacea, according to Stella Everingham, Scottish Borders Council’s head of integrated children’s services.
The issue of improved financial inducements was raised at last week’s SBC meeting when Tory backbencher Gavin Logan asked what plans the social work department had in place to increase the number of foster carers, particularly for older children.
He was told by Councillor Frances Renton, SBC’s executive member for social work, that the recruitment of foster carers was an ongoing priority, with the family placement team running regular campaigns and advertisements.
She recalled that last year, SBC joined with East Lothian, Midlothian and Edinburgh to run a major recruitment campaign with the support of the national charity The Fostering Network and this had yielded 52 enquiries from the Borders.
But at the screening stage, 44 withdrew, leaving eight assessments for prospective foster carers progessing.
“Outwith this campaign we have approved four other fostering households this year, with three assessments ongoing,” said Mrs Renton who added: “Throughout 2011 there has been significant progress with five new carers approved, six currently being assessed and four on the waiting list for screening.”
She said the council’s family placement team had a recruitment action plan for 2011-2013 with a range of goals, including speeding up the application process, prioritising specific types of placements, e.g. adolescent fostering, targeting particular employment groups in the health and care sectors, and allowing foster agency recruitment via the council website.
In addition to that work, the charity Action for Children, with which SBC has a contract to provide specialist carers for teenagers, regularly ran campaigns in the local and national press, and on radio .
But why, asked Councillor Logan, was supply not keeping pace with demand and, given that so many had withdrawn from the process after last year’s Fostering Network campaign, was a simple answer not to pay higher rates?
“It seems that other local authorities are poaching our foster carers,” he added.
In the Borders, foster carers receive weekly allowances of £103.11 for a child aged 10 or under and £156.31 for 11-17 years. In addition, they get a so-called foster fee of £124.88 or £147.21 per week, the latter level paid to carers with additional experience and training.
Although there is no agreed national level of payments, the Fostering Network recommends weekly allowances, outside London, far in excess of the Borders level – £134.47 (age 0-4), £149.76 (5-10), £186.43 (11-15) and £226.74 (over 16), but make no specific recommendation for fees which, councillors heard, can vary considerably between local authorities.
Mrs Everingham told Mr Logan: “We are looking very hard at the whole area of whether an increase in fees paid to foster carers would be a solution to our current difficulties.
“That is one of the questions we need to consider and, on the surface, it appears the obvious solution. However, I think we need to be cautious and not conclude there is one answer to this issue.
“Currently, Action for Children is recruiting for foster carers in the Borders on our behalf for a more specialist scheme with higher fees, but they are finding the same level of difficulty as ourselves.
“Our existing carers are aware they could receive higher fees with different providers, but have chosen to remain with SBC because our support to carers is valued and an important factor in attracting new recruits.
“There is a national problem over recruitment and lots of theories have been put forward to explain this – for example that families with two working adults have less capacity to undertake a fostering role.
“We will certainly explore the payment angle, but we are not alone in not paying the suggested national rate.”