Highland Council apologises after giving MSP wrong foster care information

A council that sends children to foster care hundreds of miles away has apologised after giving incorrect information to an MSP.

Highland Council initially suggested it relocated foster children up to 484 miles away but has now admitted this figure was incorrect due to “human error”.

Correcting their mistake, the council said the farthest a child was sent for foster care was 301 miles.

In addition to the one child sent to a foster home more than 300 miles away, seven children were placed more than 250 miles away and another 11 were relocated more than 200 miles from their hometown or birthplace.

The information about how far children in the Highlands were sent for foster care was revealed in a freedom of information request by Kate Forbes MSP, who described the situation as “a matter of great sadness”.

The MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch said: “It breaks my heart that some of the littlest and most vulnerable of my constituents are sent hundreds of miles away because of a lack of foster carers locally, and I hope to work with the council and other agencies to help increase the number of foster carers in the Highlands.”

As of February, the council said it had 122 children in foster care, 61 in residential care and a further 141 with independent fostering agencies or kinship care – a total of 324.

The number of new foster carers recruited has fallen from 13 in 2016 to just five last year, the council disclosed, sparking calls for more to be done to recruit carers.

In an email to Ms Forbes, the head of children’s services at Highland Council Karen Ralston said she “would like to apologise for the inaccurate data that was included” in the response.

She added: “This previously stated that the furthest fostering placement from home for a child was 484 miles – this information was incorrect and should have stated 301 miles.

“I would like to clarify that we have no fostering placements outwith Scotland.”

A spokeswoman for the council said: “Highland Council is ambitious to recruit more carers as we know that this is the best thing for children in the Highlands.

“We recognise that hands-on support for carers is as important as the rate of allowances but also that we would like to bring our allowances into line with other councils at the earliest opportunity.

“Fostering allowances are not set at a national rate but are at the discretion of individual councils and there is considerable variation.

“There are additional and discretionary allowances that Highland pays depending on individual circumstances.”

She added: “Our fostering and adoption teams work closely with independent fostering agencies in and out with Highland.

“It is not always a negative that children are placed at a distance from their family and home town due to their assessed needs.

“We have not placed any children outwith Scotland and would endeavour to identify suitable placements in Highland at the earliest opportunity.”

The spokeswoman also appealed for anyone who was considering becoming a foster carer to find out more information on the council’s website, adding “it can make a major difference to the lives of children and change a future”.

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