THE number of children aged four or younger in care in York has nearly doubled in three years.
Almost a quarter of children in care are now nursery school-age or younger.
And more than half of York’s looked-after children are placed outside the city – as the council struggles to recruit foster carers.
The sad figures are revealed in a City of York Council strategy to plan how best to care for vulnerable young people and youngsters leaving care.
High house prices in the city are partly to blame, according to the report prepared for a meeting tomorrow (Tuesday).
It says: “York has unique challenges when it comes to foster care sufficiency.
“As a city there are a number of alternatives to being a foster carer due to the student and home stay market.
“This, together with most adults in the city being in work and house prices being high, creates a challenging environment in which to recruit foster carers.”
There were 262 children in care in York at the end of March – a higher proportion than the national average.
York Central MP Rachael Maskell said the situation is “desperately sad”.
She said: “We know that years of austerity and now the coronavirus pandemic has hit vulnerable families the most, with many reaching crisis point.
“Families need earlier interventions, better housing and children with special educational needs and disabilities need significantly more help. For this to happen, we need to see the Government invest in families.
“Further to this, I have witnessed the strain of children being placed out of area, sometimes separated from their siblings, and the impact of this can be truly heart-breaking.”
The council says foster carers are “urgently needed” to help children stay close to their school, friends and family networks.
Cllr Ian Cuthbertson, the council’s executive member for children and education, said the authority has not just a legal but also a moral duty to support the young people in its care.
He added: “But the strategy is about much more than just bricks and mortar.
“We need to ensure that the welfare, emotional, and physical wellbeing of the children and young people concerned is protected and nurtured in environments which help them to reach their full potential.”
Cllr Bob Webb, spokesperson for children and educationfrom the Labour group, supported the early help strategy but said sufficient funding is important.
He added: “It’s unfortunate that York has a majority of its looked after children placed outside the city. I’d like a better idea of what the council is doing to attract foster carers to reverse this.
“Leeds council has been successful in retaining its own foster carers with things like free gym memberships and free swimming lessons for their children. Is an advertising campaign alone enough?”
The council launched a digital recruitment campaign with the aim of attracting 15 new foster carers by the end of the financial year – but the campaign was paused because of the pandemic and will start again soon.
The strategy will be discussed at a meeting today (Tuesday, September 29) at 10am. Watch live at youtube.com/user/cityofyorkcouncil.
Find out more about becoming a foster carer at www.york.gov.uk/fostering.