COULD local housing associations help solve Dorset’s shortage of foster families?

Councillors have been told that if more, suitable homes, were made available, keeping and recruiting foster families might improve.

Dorset councillor Andrew Kerby says that 90 per cent of potential foster families he talks to claim the only thing holding them back is the lack of space – and yet the council has the ability to change the situation.

The council’s corporate parenting panel has also been told of cases where foster carers, or those being cared for, are sleeping on a sofa because of a shortage of space – yet it can take two years for housing associations to find another suitable property.

The problem also affects those in the private sector where people would foster – but cannot afford a larger home, or to build on an extra bedroom. One solution suggested is for the council to lend the the money, although this strategy is said to be problematic for a number of reasons.

Dorset has long suffered a shortage of its own foster carers which has partly  led to around 40 per cent of the county’s children in care having to be accommodated, often with private providers, outside the county borders.

Foster recruitment campaigns have only had limited success and with many of the county’s foster carers already at retirement age, or planning to give it up, more foster carers are leaving, or not working, than have been newly recruited. Many are currently not taking on children because of the pandemic and their own needs to stay safe.

Cllr Cathy Lugg told the panel on Thursday evening that the time had come for what she described as a ‘robust’ conversation with housing providers about helping tackle the problem in a more timely way. She said it was unacceptable to have foster carers, or those they were looking after, sleeping on sofas.

The council has set itself a target of finding 50 extra foster placements within the county as well as persuading independent providers to come and work in Dorset to offer additional spaces.

It also hopes to tackle the situation where many independent foster places in Dorset are being used by children out of the county, while those from Dorset are being accommodated in neighbouring counties, or even further afield. A situation described at the meeting by senior manager, Stuart Riddle, as "a crazy mixed up market."

The meeting heard that some properties the council owns, especially in the Weymouth and Portland area where there is the greatest need, may be converted to residential homes to help ease the shortage of local spaces, in addition to the five beds being created at Dorchester Road in the former registry building.