CASH-STRAPPED Worcestershire County Council spent £46.5million on placing children with independent fostering agencies (IFA) over a five-year period, the Observer can reveal.
County chiefs paid out £46,590,903 between 2012 and 2017 to agencies to place children with foster carers and on monthly payments for the care the children received.
That’s despite a Department of Education review of foster care last year which saw local authorities and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) claim costs of placing children with IFAs was ‘excessive’ and significantly more expensive than in-house placements.
The report also found, despite the large number of providers, there was little sign of healthy competition between them.
Coun Fran Oborski, chairman of the county council’s Children and Families Overview and Scrutiny Panel said some children who had very specific needs and needed specialist care were better off with independent fostering agencies but they were exceptional cases.
She told the Observer the majority could and should be cared by county council foster carers.
“The county is recruiting more of its own foster carers but we still need to recruit a lot more. The problem is there are so many independent fostering agencies in this county,” she said.
She added fosterers used to receive more money and better support from IFAs but in the last couple of years the ‘tide had turned’ and more carers were moving across to the county council’s register.
The figures revealed following an Freedom of Information request by the Observer showed between 2012 and 2017 the authority also shelled out £76,400 in compensation or damages to three looked-after children and their families because of an unsuitable placement, with the highest single payment being £40,000.
Coun Andy Roberts, cabinet member for Children and Families, said the council was fully committed to providing the right support for children and young people across the county, allowing them to lead happy, healthy and safe lives.
“Foster care continues to provide much-needed family care experience to children and young people who can’t remain at home,” he said.
“Fostering can be an incredibly rewarding experience for all involved.
“We’re always looking to expand our Worcestershire fostering scheme and increase the number of suitable foster carers who can provide short and long-term home placements available to looked after children.”
Several Worcestershire-based IFAs declined to comment on the findings.