A pioneering project to improve foster care services for vulnerable children has received praise at national level.
Kirklees Council has been honoured by Ofsted for its work in doubling the number of local foster carers and cutting the time it takes for new foster carers to be approved.
Clr Cath Harris, Cabinet member for Children’s Services, said: “Ofsted were highly impressed by our work to develop services for local foster carers and children.
“The council is making a real and lasting difference in literally hundreds of young lives and setting the standard for others to follow.
“Foster carers do a fantastic job in helping to protect and support children of all ages, many of whom are very vulnerable.
“It can be an incredibly rewarding experience for all those involved and we would love to hear from anyone who is interested in becoming a carer.”
The council identified the need for change when the lack of local carers meant there was a growing reliance on independent fostering agencies.
Using outside agencies meant that children were placed further away from home – and the council faced an extra £400-£600 per placement, per week.
A new strategy has brought major benefits for local children. The number of foster carers being recruited by the council has grown from 20 in 2010 to 39 in 2013, while approval times have been almost halved.
Vulnerable children aged between birth and 18 are now far more likely to have a foster placement with a local family, instead of moving away from the area and impacting on school life.
As a result Ofsted have now recognised the council’s work by highlighting the authority as an example of national ‘good practice’ and sharing the strategy with other fostering providers.
Part of the plan was to break down the barriers to fostering.
Huddersfield couple Deborah and Lee Paga were approved as foster carers in 2012 as part of Kirklees Council’s long-term recruitment strategy.
Parents to four children and living in a rented house, they assumed they were not eligible to become foster carers until they were approached at a Huddersfield Giants match.
Deborah said: “We were surprised when they told us that there are no hard and fast rules and, as long as we had the room in our home to care for another child we should give it a go.
“We thought about it for a little while and decided to go for it.”
A question and answer session and visit from a social worker inspired them to foster.
Deborah added: “Because we both smoked at the time we were approved to care for children between the ages of five and 10 but were told that if we stopped smoking for 12 months we could also care for children under the age of five.
“Just a few days after being approved, our social worker rang asking us to look after a nine-year-old girl.
“We were all excited, anxious and worried, but as soon as she was with us we knew she would fit in perfectly with our family. Despite only being with us briefly we really missed her when she left us to return to her birth family.
“If you’ve ever thought about fostering, I’d say don’t rule yourself out. Get in touch with the fostering team and give it a go. We love it.”
To find out more contact Kirklees Council’s fostering team on 0800 389 0086.
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