Foster fees raised to boost carer recruitment

NEARLY 100 foster carer households in the Borders will benefit from an increase in fees, ahead of a campaign to recruit more people to look after vulnerable children.

Scottish Borders Council’s executive committee agreed on Tuesday to up weekly fees and allowances, after carers described the previous payments as “barely adequate”.

Now, adults looking after children up to the age of 10 will receive £270 per week in fees and allowances instead of the previous £228, while those caring for 11 to 17-year-olds will see their pay rise from £303 to £380. At present, there are 93 carer households in the region and 128 children in full-time placements, of which 27 are in homes outwith their locality due to the foster carer shortage.

Hawick councillor Ron Smith, chair of a working group set up last year to look into the foster carer shortage, hopes carer numbers will now rise, with the investment also aimed at eventually saving the council money by not having to employ outside agencies.

Councillor Smith said: “We have been finding difficulty in placing them (children and young people) with families within the Borders, and the fallback, of placements further afield, causes financial pressures as well as even more disruption to their links with their own birth families, with friends and in the continuity of their education.

“We set out therefore to work on ways of increasing the availability of local Borders foster carers.

“After a short period of very intensive work by elected members and by council officers we feel we have produced recommendations which could improve the situation for foster carers, encourage their recruitment, and bring those more comfortable family-style environments which our looked after children deserve.”

The working group heard foster carers tell them independent agencies offered “substantially more” for their services, while there were also concerns that households without a placement do not get paid.

But the executive approved a retainer payment of £100 per week, with funding coming from the existing budget allocation.

The working group also found its fees and allowances levels were well below leading UK charity the Fostering Network’s recommendations for 2012, as well as lower than neighbouring authorities pay levels.

Andrew Lowe, SBC’s director of social work, praised councillors for backing the pay hikes in the current economic climate, which will see the council shed 42 jobs in the forthcoming financial year. “Not only does this give additional recognition and practical support to our existing and much-valued carers, but the range of measures being proposed will hopefully encourage new carers to come forward when we launch our annual recruitment campaign over the coming weeks,” said Mr Lowe.

“Foster care remains the best option for the children we look after and I have no doubt that implementation of these proposals will ensure that we continue to provide the best service we can for the children and young people in the Borders who need our support.”

Among those to benefit from the move will be Nicola Beck from Ancrum, a carer for five years with SBC who met the working group during their consultations.

She said: “Becoming foster carers was a lifestyle choice for our family and while we don’t foster for financial gain, the extra fees and allowances will help – even if it’s just by way of enabling us to be of more help to the children in our care.

“We were pleased to see that the council is introducing a retainer fee as this will bring additional stability and peace of mind. I have given up regular employment to be a carer and the worry of an irregular income when there are no placements is always at the back of our minds.

“It was interesting to see the report quoting that 65 per cent of carers have been with the council for more than five years. Like us, they see this as a commitment and are in it for the long term.

“There’s no doubt that fostering can be challenging, but to see a child flourish and grow in the loving, safe and homely environment that you provide them makes it all worthwhile.”

National figures published by the Fostering Network show more than 1,000 foster carers need to be found over the next 12 months to avoid a crisis.

In Scotland, the number of children living with foster families has risen by around a third since 2005, with SBC having experienced a 36 per cent increase in the last year in the number of children and young people requiring to be accommodated.