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Foster carers in Lochaber and elsewhere in Highland region are the lowest paid in Scotland, according to figures obtained by local MSP Kate Forbes.
The figures show that Highland Council pays the lowest allowance rate in Scotland for foster carers with children under 11 years old – sparking calls to rethink support for foster carers in order to boost numbers.
Ironically, the revelations about the disparity in foster carer payments comes just days after the start of Foster Care Fortnight 2019, which is Scotland’s biggest annual foster care awareness raising campaign.
For youngsters aged up to four years old, Highland Council pays a weekly allowance of £77.69, the lowest rate in Scotland, and a figure less than half of what is being offered by the neighbouring rural local authority Argyll and Bute, which gives £196.71-per-week – a difference of more than £6,000 a year.
And due to a shortage of foster carers in the Highlands, the local council currently pays more than £2 million annually on placing foster children outwith the area.
Ms Forbes said: ‘This is a much bigger question about how we support foster carers. It is not about the money – that’s not what attracts foster carers to open their homes and lives to vulnerable children. However, it can make the difference to retaining and supporting them adequately.
‘It is baffling that in Duror, part of my constituency, a foster carer would get an allowance of £77, whereas 10 minutes down the road in Appin in Argyll and Bute, they would get more than double that.
‘Reconsidering financial support could help to retain some carers who are struggling to make ends meet and care for young people.
‘Let’s not forget that the Highland Council currently has an out-of-area spend of over £2 million – so if more prospective foster carers come forward, we keep more kids in the Highlands and this sum reduces.
‘That won’t necessarily be the right result for everybody, as there can be exceptional reasons why some children go out-of-area, but it will certainly help some.’
The Fostering Network has been campaigning for a decade for the Scottish Government to introduce and fund a national minimum fostering allowance.
Its director in Scotland, Sara Lurie, told us: ‘Scotland is the only country in the UK not to have such an allowance and without it some foster families and the children they care for are not getting the support they need,’ she said.