Taxpayers in Wakefield are paying millions to outside fostering agencies, despite them looking after far fewer children than the local council.
An investigation has found that Wakefield Council gave out £4m to independent foster firms in 2017/18, which was more than they spent on their own directly employed carers.
The council fostered 395 children during the same timeframe, almost three times as many as the highly-paid agencies took on themselves.
The local authority, which has a legal obligation to care for the city’s young despite its budget being repeatedly slashed by central government, said it had “no choice” but to rely on help from such agencies.
Figures also show that the number of youngsters being placed into care is rising year-on-year.
A total of 105 more children were fostered in the district in 2017/18 than five years ago.
And although the number of carers is rising too, there remains a serious shortage.
Pam Allen, Wakefield Council’s Interim Service Director for Safeguarding, said: “The children in our care are our top priority and we will make sure that they have the right foster carer to meet their needs.
“Where ever possible we will always place children with our own foster carers. But as seen by councils up and down the country, we are experiencing a shortage of foster carers in the district.
“This, coupled with the increasing numbers of children needing foster care and many of those having more complex needs, we have no choice but to rely on independent fostering agencies to ensure that children are getting the care they need.”
Ms Allen said that the council offered “competitive rates” and incentives to the foster carers it directly employs and that it was working hard to retain them, as well as add to their numbers.
She added: “Fostering is extremely rewarding, offering people the opportunity to use their skills to help shape a child’s future for the better. If you think you can provide a supportive and stable environment for children or young people, please get in touch to find out more.”
The figures in full
Amount paid by Wakefield Council to foster carers it directly employs and related services in 2017/18 - £3,805,295
Amount paid by Wakefield Council to outside fostering agencies to look after children in its care in 2017/18 - £4,008,165
The number of children placed into care with Wakefield Council foster carers in 2017/18 - 395
The number of children placed into care with outside agencies in Wakefield in 2017/18 - 135