ATTRACTING more foster families in Dorset has got off to a slow start – but an extra 50 in the pipeline for next year could save the new Dorset Council more than £1.5million.

The county council started a recruiting campaign last year after shortages of its own foster families forced it to find places for children through independent fostering agencies at a typical additional cost of up to £30,000 a year.

After costs rose the county decided to once again concentrate on recruiting its own foster families and took on an agency to help find potential volunteers. The selection and training process is then taken on by an in-house team. The target is to find an extra 70 foster carers for the county.

Acting social services director Nick Jarman said on Monday that there had only been a limited response this year, but in the coming financial year an extra 51 were expected to be ready to start work.

He said that a target of 18 weeks, rather than 24, to get a foster carer ready to receive a child had proved to be too ambitious but the process was now improving as staff became more proactive in chasing up medical reports and criminal record checks so that new recruits could begin training.

He told Monday’s meeting of the county audit and governance committee that, for the moment, the extra recruits would not solve the long-term aim of reducing the numbers of young people who require specialist residential care, where costs typically start at £4.000 a week. He said that would remain a job for the most experienced of foster carers who had both the aptitude and training for the most challenging of young people.

Mr Jarman said that the new foster carers expected to start work in the coming financial year were made up of 28 who would be available for general need and 23 who were mainly family members with a connection to the child, or children, they would foster.

Asked about why there had been delays Mr Jarman admitted: “I think we were overly optimistic about the timescales…but it now works like a pipeline and there is weekly monitoring so we can see where people are in the system and chase things up, if we need to.”

He said that even with the limited scale of new recruits so far the county had been able to cut back on six agency foster carers: “It doesn’t seem a lot but it is progress in the right direction in the current climate,” said Mr Jarman.

Cabinet brief holder for the service Cllr Steve Butler said that the new recruits would not be asked to take on some of the county’s more challenging young people, a job which only a few of the more experienced foster carers were prepared to undertake: “We have different levels of foster carers and the last thing anybody in their right mind would do is put difficult to place children with a new foster carer,” he said.