Plaintive plea for more Norfolk foster carers

The number of children in care across Norfolk is expected to top 1,000 in the next 12 months.

Meanwhile, the cost of looking after all those vulnerable children - currently 954 of them, but rising almost every week - is running relentlessly over budget.

It is a nightmare for children's services staff at Norfolk County Council, who have spent millions of pounds in recent years on early intervention measures to stop children needing to be taken away from their parents.

But what is a challenge for some people could be an opportunity for others.

Today, the council launched an urgent campaign to recruit 50-plus extra foster carers.

foster carers.

The call to become a foster carers was supported by teenager Craig Stubbs, who is in care and lives in Norwich. The member of Norfolk's In Care Council said: 'A foster carer can make a young person's future better just by giving them safety and making them feel that someone cares, and that they are not just part of a system or a number.'

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And, while it is not a comment that will be made by anyone at County Hall, the current economic situation could play into the hands of the recruiters.

In the coming months, thousands of skilled professionals are likely to be made redundant. And, with foster carers getting up to �24,000 a year for the most challenging youngsters, their need for income and the council's need for carers could be coming together at the right time.

The background to the current situation is bleak, though.

The rising number of children in care is enormously expensive, and is putting enormous pressure on County Hall resources at a time when �155m is being cut from the budget.

With a child in care costing an average �52,000 per year to look after - rising to �171,600 on average for children looked after 'out of county' - the council is seeking to reduce spiralling costs and save �1.5m a year by recruiting

But - although children in foster care cost less than half of the �52,000 average - Alison Thomas, Norfolk's cabinet member for children's services, denied that the drive was about saving money.

She said: 'Of course we need to save money on foster care placements, but it isn't about providing the cheapest option. It is about providing the best option for our young people and in most cases that is a good foster care placement in Norfolk.'

Two hundred children are currently looked after inside and outside Norfolk in placements not provided by the county council, which pays more than �10m a year for the services.

The average cost is �3,300 per week - compared to �450 per week for in-house foster care.

With research suggesting children do better if they are close to home or in a family unit, there is an urgent need to find people who are willing and able to foster.

Mrs Thomas said: 'We know that children are most likely to succeed if they benefit from the guidance, support and care of a good foster carer, close to their home.

'These young people are among the most vulnerable in the county and, wherever possible, we want them to be near their schools, friends and support network.'

The county council is particularly keen to recruit people from caring professions and those with experience of working with children and young people, such as teachers or nurses.

A spokesman said: 'People from these backgrounds already have much of the experience needed to care for young people with complex needs, and may be able to attract greater allowances because of their experience - receiving up to �24,000 a year for looking after children with the most complex needs.'

Mrs Thomas said: 'People in caring professions have a head start in becoming a foster carer and it may be that they have had a change in circumstances or want to have a change in direction, which makes fostering possible.

'We need people who can provide children with security, patience and compassion and can give them the inspiration they need to fulfil their potential.

? Anyone interested in becoming a foster carer can visit or call 0344 800 8020.

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