An intensive new campaign to recruit badly needed foster carers is being extended across Barnsley following a successful pilot scheme in one district which resulted in a leap in numbers enquiring about the role.
At present, Barnsley has 145 fostering households, but there are 310 children in foster care – meaning demand for places outstrips supply and that can result in children being placed with privately operated carers, which is both expensive for the council and can mean children being uprooted from their local environment and moved away.
Last year a pilot scheme was launched in the north east part of the borough and Angela Riley, a social worker in the fostering care team, told councillors it had been highly successful: “We got 37 new households, which is the most we have ever had.”
However, that does not mean an overall increase of that number, because some foster carers fall out of the system as replacements are recruited.
This year the council has a target of attracting 30 new households to provide fostering services, which can range from short term cover to providing long term placements which can go on for many years, with some young people staying in foster care until they reach adulthood.
“Our objectives are to improve the recruitment and retention of good quality foster carers in Barnsley,” she said.
“Our motto is Barnsley foster carers for Barnsley children.
“We want people who know a child’s needs. If we cannot find foster carers, we have to use independent foster carers, which are not only very costly but they have to be moved out of the area,” she said.
While Barnsley Council tries to keep children within a 20 mile radius of the town, moving away means further disruption for the child involved, such as moving schools and being separated from friends.
The success in north east Barnsley was put down to targeted work, with the fostering service attending public events, using social media and distributing flyers to interested parties.
One of the next events they will focus on is the autumn’s food festival which takes place at Elsecar Heritage Centre.
“When people show an expression of interest, there is an 80 per cent drop out rate,” she said, “So we need to get a lot of people interested in what we are doing.”
The service is working across Barnsley, with six members of staff becoming the ‘local face of fostering’ across their own areas.
Coun Chris Lamb told a meeting of Barnsley’s South Area Council, which works across that part of town and will have its own fostering team member to recruit locally: “When the north east campaign was ongoing I saw quite a lot of Twitter traffic making reference to it.
“While you may be targeting one area, it was spilling out into other areas. Clearly it was working well with a social media presence.”