A shortage of foster carers in Leeds has left council chiefs with a bill of more than £12m this year because they need to draft in private agencies to cope with the city’s needs.
Now the council is hunting for hundreds of new carers to work directly with their services to reduce the need to buy in cover.
Forecasts show that Leeds City Council is expected to spend £12.4m for private foster carers, who will provide a home for hundreds of ‘looked after’ children in the city.
The YEP revealed last week that the number of children taken into the care of social services in Leeds has rocketed since the Baby P scandal. More than 14,139 children were referred to social services between November 2010 and November last year – compared to 8,667 between 2008 and 2009.
More than 1,430 children are being looked after by the council, which has the fourth highest number of looked-after children in England.
But Leeds City Council only has 622 dedicated foster carers available to help meet the demand.
Councillor Judith Blake, Leeds City Council executive board member for children’s services, said: “At the moment we need to use external fostering agencies more than we would like, as we don’t have enough foster carers here at the council.”
The council spent just £5.3m for the last financial year to pay for outside agencies to help care for the city’s children.
Coun Blake added: “The situation is we have got 622 fosterers and you can see that there’s a gap.
“To fill the gap we use independent foster carers and they are not part of our own foster care service.
“We are very keen to increase the numbers of our own foster carers.”
Before the Baby P scandal – where 17-month-old Peter Connelly, from London, died after suffering a catalogue of horrific abuse at the hands of his mother, her boyfriend and their lodger– 1,340 Leeds children were in care in 2007.
The figure peaked at 1,474 in March this year before it started to stabilise.
A desperate search is underway to recruit at least 200 new foster carers to help look after hundreds of children who are referred to social services every year.
The number of youngsters being referred to the local authority has steadily increased over the last seven years.
Children are referred to social services for many reasons including neglect and concerns that youngsters aren’t being adequately cared for. Referrals come from health workers, police or from children’s schools.