Lancashire’s foster care shortage is close to crisis

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Picture posed by model
  • Dozens moved out of Lancashire amid lack of available homes
  • Plea for more people in county to help vulnerable children
  • How can you help?
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Dozens of vulnerable children are being sent out of Lancashire every year, because of the shortage of foster carers in the county.

With increasing pressure on social services to rehome vulnerable, abused and neglected children, many children are being sent hundreds of miles away.

It comes as one young girl was sent to a foster family more than 100 miles away in County Durham after her care placement in Chorley broke down.

The girl’s grandmother, who cannot be named for legal reasons, said: “I want my grandchild back from County Durham. We’re devastated.”

With around 20 county children needing homes each week, the pressures on Lancashire County Council is approaching a crisis point.

Research by The Post has found that of the 1,106 current foster placements under the jurisdiction of Lancashire County Council, almost half (44 per cent) were organised through agency placements over the last five years.

The need for foster carers is also rising locally and nationally, as more and more children need temporary homes.

A total of 593 were organised in-house – through a foster carer recruited by the local authority – and another 492 were organised through agency placements. Agencies are independent foster parent recruiters that exist to keep up with demand, some of the placements organised by agencies were out of the county, but LCC was unable to supply figures for how many agency placements were outside Lancashire. A further 21 placements were organised under the jurisdiction of an external local authority.

A spokesperson for the county council said: “Although the figure for children being fostered through agency placements might seem quite high, this is reflected in the national - and north west - figures.

“The children being fostered by us through agency placements need to be seen in the context of the necessity to sometimes find an appropriate foster carer in an emergency, or at short notice.”

They added: “Our requirement of finding suitable carers for children and young people who may have a special need or disability, may be older, or may have siblings who we always try to keep together, also impact on these figures. We work together with agencies to make sure that we find the best placement possible.

“The need for foster carers is also rising locally and nationally, as more and more children need temporary homes.”

Further findings reveal that in regards to adoption, of the current 59 placements under the jurisdiction of Lancashire County Council, nine of them – a total of 15 per cent – have been organised through external agencies.

The foster and adoption crisis has by no means been restricted to Lancashire. BBC figures from June 2017 revealed that almost a quarter of children in Wales were re-homed outside of their county, with 1,500 placements out of 5,600 being made out of their local authority.

Earlier this month the Bristol Post revealed that there is a current shortfall of around 480 foster placements in the south west, and total shortage of 7,180 across the UK.

A Freedom of Information request to Moray council, Scotland, found that between 2011 and 2014, the authority spent £1.22 million on foster care placements outside of their area.

‘Distraught’ at moving over 100 miles from family

One example of out-of-area placements is a Lancashire girl who has been moved to County Durham, more than 100 miles away from her extended family.

One family member has spoken out, saying they are ‘distraught’ at the move, and the disruption it has caused to the 10-year-old girl.

Neither the name of the child nor the reasons for the move can be reported for legal reasons.

The girl’s mother said that it was now costing her £40 each way to visit her daughter, and that many family members in Lancashire had offered to take the girl in.

The child’s grandmother told The Post: “I want my grandchild back from County Durham. My daughter - the child’s mother - is devastated.”

Lancashire County Council - who are legally responsible for the child - were contacted regarding the family’s concerns.

Cabinet member for Children, Young People, and Schools, Susie Charles, said: “Whilst it is inappropriate for me to comment on individual cases because of our policy of confidentiality, sometimes it is in the best interests of a child or young person not to remain with their birth family.

“If a legal decision is taken for a child to live somewhere else, we abide by this decision and do everything possible to find the best placement, and importantly one that achieves stability for them.

“Occasionally there are factors beyond our control when court decisions are made, but out-of-the-area placements only happen when it is considered to be in the best interests of the child or young person, and their particular circumstances.”

Coun Charles added: “Decisions on how many visits can be made by the family are also taken by the court. We uphold this decision and pay for the cost of their travel to make these visits, however many visits there are, so that relationships can be maintained.

“Making sure that children and young people are safe and are being well cared for is always our priority.”

Who can foster and adopt?

There are many myths surrounding what criteria has to met in order to foster a child.

Almost half of people (44 per cent) think that if you’re over 55 you can’t be a foster carer; nearly a fifth (16 per cent) of people believe that if you’re a man you can’t foster; and one in three believe you can’t foster if you are gay.

These figures - from an Action for Children survey - are complete untruths.

The truth of the matter is that to foster and/or adopt, you only have to be over 21-years-old and have a spare bedroom.

Lancashire County Council is continuously encouraging more people to become carers.

The allowances payable to new foster carers was recently increased by at least £115 per week. Newly appointed fosters carers can expect to receive between £241 and £415 per week for each child they care for.

Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Schools, Susie Charles, said: “We have increased our allowances to foster carers this year in recognition of their valuable role in providing loving homes for the children in our care. There is also a rising demand for placements with more children and young people coming into the care of the local authority each week.”

Efforts to find adoption placements willing to take on siblings, in order to keep families together, have also increased due to brothers and sisters being among the children who wait longest to be adopted.

Earlier this year Preston-based adoption agency Caritas Care took an innovative approach to finding a home for two hard to place children - an advert on the internet.

The siblings, both of whom have special needs, were the subject of an advert calling for people to take them in.

At the time the agency exlained that the unusual approach was prompted by the statistics that show that older children, groups of children and children with special needs tend to wait much longer for placements.

Learn more about getting involved at the follow information evenings;

Fostering: September 20 , October 18, November 15, and December 13 at County Hall, Preston, PR1 8XJ. 6pm to 7:30pm.

Adoption: September 5, October 3, November 14, and December 5 at County Hall, Preston, PR1 8XJ. 6pm to 7:30pm.

Applications to become a foster or adoption carer can be made online at http://www.lancashire.gov.uk/fostering or http://www.lancashire.gov.uk/adoption. Alternatively, you can phone 0300 123 6723.