Children are our future. So we have to be concerned at a cabinet report for Portsmouth City Council that predicts a £1.6m shortfall in funding for childcare and educational services for the year 2011-12.
In a time when local authority budgets are being squeezed hard, overspends have to be questioned.
But Councillor Jim Fleming, Tory spokesman for children’s services, is spot on when he says ‘it’s vital we spend what we need to, as looking after young people is the most important thing we do.’
It simply can’t be seen in the same light as other aspects of a council’s operations, as figures on a balance sheet.
Yet there are ways to save money without affecting provision. In the case of foster care, the council’s carer recruitment drive is showing signs of paying off.
Since January, 19 new carers have been approved by the council, providing 29 children and young people with new homes. A total of 167 youngsters are now in placements with 127 approved foster carers. Sixty-seven are living with agency foster carers and the number of children in care in the city has dropped from 356 to 311.
These figures are significant because it costs £2,000 per week to have a child in care and up to £910 to have a child staying with an agency carer, but up to £443 for them to be with a foster carer.
The benefit is not just financial. Being placed with foster carers in Portsmouth means that city children can stay in a familiar environment near their friends – and can be placed with carers based on individual needs and the skills of those carers.
The foster carers get something much more than money out of the arrangement as well. Today we report how Deamonn Hewitt-Dale and his husband Barry, Portsmouth’s first gay couple to be approved as foster carers, believe it was the best decision they ever made. The couple have adopted a teenage boy and say they are delighted to be able to help him.
But a lot more carers like them are still needed. So if you feel you can offer a home to a child or young person, call 07908 552281 or visit fosterportsmouth.co.uk. You could make a real difference.