61 mainstream foster carers approved by the end of Feb 2013 and at the end of Dec 22 foster carers have been terminated. Therefore there has been a net gain so far of 39.
But the final figures are expected to be worse than this with estimated net gain of 31 internal carers for this year, it is projected that half as many carers are being lost to the Council as those approved.
Questions centred on the relative experience of carers leaving and the loss of care they are able to offer children. Experienced foster carers tend to be able to provide care for young people with more complex needs including challenging behaviours.
The Scrutiny Committee expressed frustration at the slow rate of recruitment of carer’s although recruitment for 2012-13 is likely to be the best year ever. Notably there was no discussion about how best to retain experienced carers.
The Budget for 2012-13 agreed a cuts and savings target for Children in care services of £6.7m which included the closure of 5 Children’s Homes. This strategy included increasing the pool of internal foster carers who can care for more children in care at reduced cost to the Council. (P44 Council Business Plan and Budget 2012+)
This strategy and the costing attached to it are in question, as taken together with the closure of the five Children’s Homes it is likely there has been an overall loss of internal placements for young people with more complex and challenging behaviours.
The Scrutiny Committee also received an update on the Service Review regarding Birmingham’s Children’s Centres. The Children’s Centre provision is being re- modelled to sit within the integrated early help services. This will lead to it being more targeted and will cease being a universal children’s service.
The re-modelling exercise will lay the basis for the recommissioning of Children’s Centre’s for 2014-15. Many of the Children’s Centres are currently run by a range of providers on behalf of the Council. Potential cuts and closures will become visible later this year when the service review concludes.