The number of children being taken into care by Birmingham City Council is on the increase again after falling steadily for four years.
August saw the second highest intake ever recorded, taking the number of young people being looked after by the local authority to 1,901.
The jump represents a blow for the council, which is trying to cut expensive care costs by helping vulnerable children to remain with their families when it is safe to do so.
Attempts to recruit more foster parents have also suffered a setback in a backlash against a compulsory government-imposed training scheme.
Experienced foster carers in Birmingham are quitting because they can’t face the academic work involved in completing the year-long programme.
Members of the city’s vulnerable children’s scrutiny committee received a report expressing concerns about the impact on older carers.
All foster parents in England now have to complete the Children’s Workforce Development Council’s workbooks scheme, which has been described as being almost as demanding as gaining an NVQ.
The programme is based on completing 46 separate sections, ranging from equality and anti-discriminatory policies to health and safety.
Applicants must have an understanding of legislation regarding children and communicate effectively with parents, families and friends.
Other sections of the programme ask for an understanding of the need to promote positive sexual health and sexual identity among young people.
Each of the 46 sections has to be signed off by a supervisor before the foster parent can be handed a Certificate of Successful Completion.
Having gained a certificate, carers are then urged to identify “specialist courses or skills” they would like to develop in order to update their Personal Development Plan.
Head of fostering for Birmingham, Jacquie Smith, said that 37 foster parents gave up last year, with many of them complaining they were too old to fill in the workbooks which are required to “evidence their skills and abilities”.
Ms Smith added: “We have foster carers in their 60s and even some in their 70s and some of them felt, as they were coming toward the end of their career, rather than doing this big piece of work they would leave now.”
The council offered training and support to carers undertaking the workbooks scheme, and 430 foster parents now have the qualification.
The course also has to be completed by 86 family and friends carers, who are not fully qualified foster parents but are allowed to look after children who are normally relatives. They will be given 18 months to gain the certificate. Ms Smith warned: “It may be that granny or auntie says ‘we don’t want to do the work’.”
Birmingham City Council received top marks from Ofsted following the latest inspection of fostering services.
Attempts are under way to increase the number of foster parents from about 600 to 1,000.
Payments have been increased in recent years, with a carer now receiving a minimum £138 each week per looked after child. Existing foster parents receive a £500 bonus for every new carer they manage to recruit.
Ms Smith added: “Fostering is a viable alternative for someone who is looking for a job. They can make a lot of money but they are certainly earning it.”
Talks are under way between the council, police and the courts in an attempt to reduce the length of time taken to place a child in care.
A national target set by the Government requires councils to complete the process within 55 weeks.
The average in Birmingham is 67 weeks, down from 78 weeks last year. The city’s social care department is waiting for the results of an Osted inspection of services for vulnerable children, which are currently the subject of a government improvement plan after having been declared inadequate.
The latest performance figures show some improvement, with an increase in the percentage of children whose cases are reviewed by social workers on time.
More children are leaving care with five good GCSEs, but fewer than half go on to find jobs or training courses, the scrutiny committee was told.