Concerns over Highlands children being fostered far from home
Concerns have been raised that some foster children in the Highlands are being placed with families hundreds of miles away due to a shortage of local carers.
Figures have suggested that 19 children are living more than 200 miles away from their original homes.
Some foster parents have blamed a lack of funding for the shortage of places in the area.
Highland Council said it was committed to supporting children locally.
It added that some children benefitted from living away from their home area.
'Safe and secure'
The figures released to SNP MSP Kate Forbes by Highland Council under Freedom of Information legislation showed that on 12 February this year:
- One child was placed 301 miles (484km) from their home in the Highlands
- Seven children were placed more than 250 miles away
- 11 were with families more than 200 miles away
Sarah Lurie, Scottish director of the Fostering Network, said the situation increased the risk of siblings being split up and placed with families hundreds of miles apart.
She said: "We want children to feel safe and secure while they are growing up, but also that they grow up into safe and secure adulthoods.
"We know if children are separated as they come into care it's often that they won't be placed with them again."
Payment system 'a disgrace'
Highland Council gives foster carers a single payment irrespective of how many children are in their care.
Other Scottish councils pay foster parents a rate for each child they look after.
One Highlands foster parent, who asked not to be named, described the single payment system a "disgrace".
She told BBC Scotland: "You wouldn't ask a nurse to go and do three shifts and pay her for one. You wouldn't ask a doctor to do that. You wouldn't ask anybody do that.
"If you ask me how many children I take now - it's one. The incentive to actually take more isn't there.
"It's knowing that you're not valued, that puts you off going that extra mile."
Ms Forbes said that due to a lack of foster carers, Highland Council was paying more than £2m per year on placing children with families outside the area.
She said it was "difficult enough" for any child going through the fostering and adoption process without being placed hundreds of miles from home.
The MSP said: "Whilst I fully understand there will be times when it is a risk for a child to remain near their own home, Highland Council should not be sending children to another country.
"This has all sorts of repercussions, such as different school systems that will likely disrupt their education, not to mention the costs and staff time for mandatory social work visits."
Highland Council said: "Some children are placed outwith Highland for their own safety so this should not always be viewed as a negative experience for them."
Councillor Linda Munro, chairwoman of the local authority's corporate parenting board, said local foster parents were "valued" and that the council "will do everything" it can to support them.
She said there were no plans to increase the fees paid to carers, but added: "My biggest commitment is to keep Highlands children in the Highlands."
Children's minister Maree Todd said foster carers offered "invaluable stability and care" for vulnerable children and that the government provided £145,000 a year for a national recruitment and awareness raising campaign.
She said: "While councils are responsible for recruitment and deciding fees, every child's situation is unique and decisions about foster care placements should be driven by the best interests of the child.
"In addition to fees, foster and kinship carers are entitled to child allowances and, following a review, we are in discussion with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to achieve greater consistency and transparency to the allowances and support carers receive."