Steve Darling: Will language student hosts want to become foster carers?

Torbay Council has the second-highest number of children in care in the UK

Torbay Council has the second-highest number of children in care in the UK - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

As somebody who was adopted, I feel a level of personal empathy with the families that adopt and foster in Torbay.

This personal connection is one of the reasons why I have a close interest in our children's services at Torbay Council.

Last autumn, Cordelia Law, our Cabinet member for children's services, held a series of coffee mornings where elected councillors met with Torbay foster care families to hear what made them tick and how Torbay could develop a better relationship with foster carers.

This grass roots information has coloured changes we have made to foster care services.

Proportionately, Torbay Council has the second-highest number of children in care in the UK, but the measures we have adopted in recent months are leading to a reduction in the number of such children and their being placed in costly residential care settings.

We are intervening at an earlier stage to prevent situations from escalating and we are putting more focus on the children, regularly assessing if they are still in the most appropriate setting.

Key to this is having enough foster carers so children can be moved into foster family homes in their local area when needed.

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To encourage more people to step forward, we recently worked closely with local foster carers to develop a new fee structure which has led this year to all foster carers in Torbay receiving an increase, The measures include enhanced payments for people who foster older children and teenagers, because we do not have enough carers locally and too many young people end up away from Torbay.

We are also offering more training and support for foster carers and have introduced a new Resilience Fostering Service for children who are at risk of being placed in, or are currently in, residential care.

We are now attracting more foster carers. This is good news, but we'd still like more to come forward.

The coronavirus outbreak has encouraged us all to look at how we can do things differently and what the alternatives are and one way we can attract more foster carers is asking families who have in the past taken foreign students into their homes to consider becoming foster carers.

Many households across Torbay will have seen a decline in the number of foreign students staying with them, so perhaps this is the right time for these people to consider if they might like to foster and take in children who need a loving and caring environment.

If you would like to find out more about this, you can visit www.torbay.gov.uk/children-and-families/fostering

It's not just our children we want to thrive – we want to see our local economy thrive too.

The coronavirus outbreak has had a devastating impact on many of our businesses and we now need to start the journey to recovery.

Torbay Council was successful in its bid for finance from the Future High Streets fund and we have used some of that money to produce a business case which could attract up to £18 million to deliver projects in Paignton town centre.

Last week, we agreed at Cabinet to submit our Future High Streets business case to Government in order to start the process of transforming Paignton town centre.

It includes seven significant and 'game changing' projects that we believe will deliver sustainable and beneficial outcomes for Paignton town centre and attract further investment.

This is all part of the council's transformation strategy for Torbay's town centres and is aligned to the Torquay Town Deal.

At Cabinet we also agreed to support the submission of the Town Investment Plan for Torquay to the Government by the end of July. 

When finalised, this will set out the justification for requesting Town Fund investment of around £25 million.

A significant part of these projects are about breathing life back into our town centres by repurposing retail property and increasing the number of homes in our town centres so they become more vibrant.