Private businesses are charging a Yorkshire council up to six times the cost of using traditional foster families to care for looked after children in the town, with fees of up to £3,000 a week.
The cost for Barnsley Council to use a private residential placement dwarfs the amount the authority pays out for placing children with foster families it has recruited itself, according to a report.
If we roll it out everywhere, we will not be able to keep up with demand until we have more staff in place.Tim Cheetham, Barnsley Council, describes the pilot scheme
And a pilot scheme to recruit more foster carers has proved so successful that plans to extend it across the whole town are being held back because the authority currently lacks the staff to cope with anticipated demand.
Where the council recruits its own foster families, the cost of accommodating a child is around £500 a week and that rises to £800 when a fostering agency is used. But if there are no fostering places available, the council has no option but to use a private residential placement and the cost of that can be between £2,500 and £3,000 each week.
Traditional foster care is regarded as the best option for the child, because they go to live in a stable and loving environment, and the authority because of the cost implications of using private residential placements.
Most local authorities struggle to recruit enough foster carers, prompting Barnsley Council to run a test project through the North East Area Council, a satellite body which works to improve an area including Royston, Cudworth and Grimethorpe.
The scheme involved using real foster parents to attend workshops and tell people about their real life experiences, as well as distributing posters and flyers around the town.
That intervention, over the course of a year, led to a sharp spike in figures for the whole town, though the area where recruitment was focused covers around a sixth of the borough.
Area council manager Caroline Donovan said: “The figures speak for themselves. In 2016 the foster care team had 52 enquiries. In six months of working with us, they had 81 enquiries. It has been a really positive scheme with big savings but also placing children in a loving and supportive home.”
Coun Tim Cheetham described the scheme as “a roaring success” and said: “It is one sixth of the borough and we have trebled the numbers of applications as a whole.
“If we roll it out everywhere, we will not be able to keep up with demand until we have more staff in place.
“The potential saving for the authority is huge,” he said.
Coun Charlie Wraith added: “The only thing that worries me about schemes like this is that we don’t have enough staff. That is because of the constraints placed on us by the Government.”