Children from the Highlands in foster care are being placed up to 500 miles (805km) away from their birthplace, an investigation has found.
Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP Kate Forbes condemned the situation, describing it as “a matter of great sadness”.
A Freedom of Information request by Ms Forbes revealed that one child was sent 484 miles (779km) to a foster home, seven children were placed more than 250 miles (402km) away and 11 were relocated more than 200 miles (322km).
Ms Forbes said: “It is difficult enough for any child going through the fostering and adoption process, never mind being placed 500 miles away from home.
“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.”
Although Highland Council’s claim not to have sent anyone outside Scotland, relocating 484 miles (779km) from anywhere on the mainland would place them in another UK nation or eight other European countries.
As of February, the council said it had 122 children in foster care, 61 in residential care and a further 141 with independent fostering agencies or kinship care.
The number of new foster carers recruited has fallen from 13 in 2016 to just five last year, the council disclosed, sparking calls for more to be done to recruit carers.
Urging the local authority to “radically rethink its foster care arrangements” and consider paying carers more, Ms Forbes added: “It is evident that Highland Council needs to review its own foster care arrangements, and that should include recruitment drives, fairer allowance rates and rebalancing costs of sending children out of area.
“If anybody is concerned by these figures, then perhaps now is the time to consider whether they could become a foster carer in the Highlands.”
A spokeswoman for the council said: “Highland Council is ambitious to recruit more carers as we know that this is the best thing for children in the Highlands.
“We recognise that hands-on support for carers is as important as the rate of allowances but also that we would like to bring our allowances into line with other councils at the earliest opportunity.
“Fostering allowances are not set at a national rate but are at the discretion of individual councils and there is considerable variation. There are additional and discretionary allowances that Highland pays depending on individual circumstances.
“Our fostering and adoption teams work closely with independent fostering agencies in and out with Highland. It is not always a negative that children are placed at a distance from their family and home town due to their assessed needs.
“We have not placed any children outwith Scotland and would endeavour to identify suitable placements in Highland at the earliest opportunity.”
The spokeswoman also appealed for anyone who was considering becoming a foster carer to find out more information on the council’s website, adding that “it can make a major difference to the lives of children and change a future”.
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