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Foster Children

Volume 961: debated on Tuesday 30 January 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a statement about his discussions on boarding-out allowances for foster children with the local authorities.

Following meetings with my Department, the local authority associations have issued circulars to local authorities recommending common age bands and age relativities for boarding-out allowances. I am arranging to send my hon. Friend copies of these circulars.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that information, but does he recall that last year he published in the Official Report the boarding-out scales for all local authorities in England and Wales? Will he consider republishing that, possibly in April or May, so that we can make a comparison to see whether his efforts to persuade local authorities to improve boarding-out allowances have met with success?

I shall certainly consider my hon. Friend's suggestion about timing, but I do not want to encourage his optimism about the dates that he put forward. We shall probably want to do this exercise again subject to resources and by a timing which would allow a reasonable period for local authority action to be taken on the first list.

What positive steps is the Minister taking to encourage local authorities to increase the number of children in foster care and so reduce the number of children in institutional care?

We are continuing to promote as vigorously as possible the idea of boarding out and foster care in all the guidelines that we issue to local authorities. I am happy to see that the numbers boarding out are rising.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the table showing comparative figures will probably show that the highest cost areas do not necessarily give the biggest boarding-out allowances? The differences in cost have often been given as justification for a variation in rates. Is it not time that my right hon. Friend took powers to ensure that boarding-out allowances are uniform throughout the country?

The table certainly revealed wide discrepancies between the rates of the various local authorities. We have no powers to insist on local authorities adhering to a specific scale. They are entitled to fix their own scales, but they did not feel able to take positive action on this matter, other than to make recommendations, because of the substantial regional and local variations in costs.