A local authority is stepping up its efforts to reduce the number of children in care who are looked after outside of county boundaries.
Earlier this week, Flintshire Council approved measures to halve council tax bills for foster carers to try and arrest the spiralling cost of out of county placements.
Last year, it overspent by almost £1.4m by paying for the care of more than 150 children outside the immediate area.
A report has now been published outlining further steps to improve the number of local foster carers.
It includes providing training to help people look after teenagers with complex needs.
It comes after the authority’s chief officer for social services said not enough people were coming forward to offer care for older youngsters.
In the report, Neil Ayling said: “There are a number of challenges facing the foster care sector both locally and nationally.
“Notably, there is a high demand for foster placements locally and Flintshire County Council are still unable to meet the demand for placements.
“There is currently a surplus of enquiries from those who are interested in fostering babies and/or young children.
“Given the current population of children looked after, the demand is for foster carers who have the skills and experience to support teenagers and sibling groups.
“Areas for further improvement include the exploration of appropriate training and remuneration for foster carers in order to create capacity to support the needs of high risk individuals, ensure closer proximity to supportive networks and reduce cost of out of county placements.”
He said in cases where children could not be cared for within Flintshire, they may be placed elsewhere in Wales or parts of England.
Figures included in the report show that in 2017/18, Flintshire Council’s budget for children in care was around £7.8 million, with approximately 65 per cent of that amount of this being spent on out of county placements.
On average, the authority spent £21,562 for every child looked after compared to a national average of £20,970.
Recently, there has been a ten per cent increase in the number of looked after children, rising from 219 at the end of March 2018 to 241 on the same date this year.
Mr Ayling said the main reasons for youngsters entering care were abuse or neglect and family dysfunction.
He added: “There is a prominent issue relating to parental capacity and ability to safely care for their child due to their own mental health, domestic abuse, substance misuse.
“Our main aim is to support families to care for their own children, and to prevent them, if safe to do so, from becoming a child looked after.
“The Flintshire Parenting Framework outlines a structure for the further development of parenting programmes and forms part of the wider strategy for early intervention and prevention in Flintshire.
“The programmes aim to support the development of parenting techniques with parents/carers to strengthen family relationships and family resilience and to reduce family breakdown.”
The schemes include a targetted support team set up to provide support for families.
It includes offering meetings to explore if wider family members or others would be willing to put themselves forward to care for a child.
In some cases, families are supported with up to 196 weeks of intensive support.
The council’s approach to reducing out of county placements will be discussed by a group of backbench politicians next week.
By Liam Randall – Local Democracy Reporter (more here).