Foster pressure pushes up council tax

AN INCREASE in the number of children needing foster care is pushing up the costs of Suffolk County Council's social services department.The numbers of children "looked after" by social care services – in children's homes or with foster parents – increased from 643 in April 2001 to 721 in December 2002.

AN INCREASE in the number of children needing foster care is pushing up the costs of Suffolk County Council's social services department.

The numbers of children "looked after" by social care services – in children's homes or with foster parents – increased from 643 in April 2001 to 721 in December 2002.

And emergency calls can push the costs up further.

Suffolk has a standard fee it pays to foster carers a week – a fee aimed to cover costs rather than being regarded as a wage.

The standard fee ranges from £88.97 for carers of children aged between zero and four years old, to £155.33 a week for the few people with foster children aged 16 and over.

And there are higher costs if the child has significant disabilities which need full-time attention.

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"In that case it is rather more than simple fostering, more like being a 24-hour carer and the fee does need to reflect that," said a county council spokeswoman.

Foster carers normally only take care of one child – although they can take on more in exceptional circumstances.

But in special occasions the costs can be much higher.

"In some circumstances we have to find foster care outside the county and that can be very expensive – as much as £100,000 a year for a single child," the spokeswoman said.

"It is something we only consider in very exceptional circumstances – such as if a child would be in serious danger of harm if their parents found them.

"We have been working to reduce the number of these kind of referrals, but there will be a few occasions when it happens," said the spokeswoman.

And one problem sometimes faced by social workers is if they have to find an emergency foster home for a child.

"If we don't have a foster carer easily available, we sometimes have to go to a foster agency – they pay more than we pay foster parents and so there is an increased cost.

"But that would only be for a very short time until we were able to find a permanent foster place with someone on our own list."

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