DORSET’S fostering service is set to undergo a multi-million-pound modernisation to create a more efficient and effective service.

A review of the county council’s fostering system revealed that significant improvements are needed to halt the increased use of Independent Fostering Agencies (IFA).

A report put before cabinet members yesterday said the increased numbers of children in care are not met by the inadequate growth of the current service.

It raised concerns that using IFAs can result in poorer outcomes as children are placed further from home and can also cost up to £19,000 more annually than an in-house council service.

Cabinet members backed the fostering modernisation plan and agreed to funding of £365,000 in the next financial year followed by £1.2m in 2019/20 and £1.3m beyond that on an ongoing basis each year.

Kim Harris, interim service manager in children’s services, said: “Fostering today is very much seen as a vocation and a job, and currently Dorset is less appealing to come and foster for.

"When someone decides to foster, they do their homework. They contact various authorities to see what allowances children will receive.

“As we are, we probably have about 25 per cent fewer foster carers than other authorities. We do not have a recruitment strategy or a retention strategy in Dorset, so this is all part of the package.

“To recruit foster carers, we must put it out there all the time. If we do not keep up our efforts, people won’t want to foster for Dorset, they will go elsewhere.”

The modernisation plans, which will come into effect immediately, will focus on recruitment and retention, simplified fees and allowances schemes, and carers available to deal with complex needs.

Attention will be given to helping people navigate the system as it was suggested the approval time of eight months for new carers can lead people to drop out of the process.

A learning and development programme will also be implemented to increase the number of foster carers able to care for children with complex needs, with higher fees to reflect the additional skills.

Leader of the council Cllr Rebecca Knox said: “The perception is out there that we assume people are not going to achieve so that initial welcome is important.

“We have to be incredibly sensitive that the perspective is not months and months of questions and tests before you even get close to what you want to be doing.”