Councillors on Highland Council have approved a proposal to substantially increase the payment to foster carers, following a campaign by Kate Forbes MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch.
The new payment proposal recognises the valuable role of foster carers in providing a home and care for the most vulnerable children within their Highland community.
The current payment structure for fees paid to foster carers comprises a weekly fee per household, irrespective of the number of children they have placed in their care.
The new proposal pays a fee per child and increase the fee by 20% from 1 January 2020.
The Council says: "We currently have 112 children and young people in our foster care service. The investment of £500,000 in foster care would help to increase the number of available placements in Highland by up to 20, consequently reducing the need to purchase more expensive placements from the Independent Fostering sector.
"Foster Care is key to the Council being able to provide high quality care for children in their local communities at a very challenging time in their lives.
"Research demonstrates when children and young people receive good consistent care which is nurturing, long standing and where they can build relationships that make them feel loved, valued and accepted, this will enable better outcomes for them in the future and into adulthood.
"The review of the Fostering Service is a project which seeks to retain more young people in the Highland area connected to their family and places they know, increase the number of children placed in our own foster care service or with family alternatives, reduce educational and social care spot-purchased placements and reduce spend on placements thereby making budgets more sustainable.
"In the last year, 42 children have returned to Highland or been able to remain in area through the programme, avoiding costs of over £6 million. Nine of these young people are now in family-based placements."
Kate Forbes MSP has welcomed Highland Council’s decision 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, after her own investigation revealed that kids were being placed with carers hundreds of miles away from home.
She has also appealed to more Highlanders to consider becoming foster carers and thereby reducing the council’s seven-figure out-of-area spend. Earlier this year figures showed that Highland Council paid the lowest allowance rate in Scotland for foster carers with children under 11-years-old.
“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.
“Let’s not forget that the Highland Council still has a considerable seven-figure out-of-area spend – so if more prospective foster carers come forward, we keep more kids in the Highlands and this sum reduces.
“That won’t necessarily be the right result for everybody, as there can be exceptional reasons why some children are out-of-area, but it will certainly help some.
“I hope that the general issue being in the public domain will encourage more people to consider whether they could become a foster carer in the Highlands.”