FEES paid to foster carers in Cumbria are set to DOUBLE from April as part of a move to bring overspending on children's services under control.

Cumbria County Council is forecast to have plunged into the red by £9.1m by March - the fourth highest deficit in the country - as it struggles to meet the cost of its 'children looked after' bill.

Now, payments to foster carers will shoot up in a bid to encourage more people to offer children a home - to drive down the amount spent on expensive agency placements.

The move is expected to cost £1.3m a year in the short term but is expected to be saving the authority £600,000 annually by 2022/23.

With additional efficiencies, total savings within Cumbria's children's services spending are expected to reach £1.5m.

Councillor Anne Burns, cabinet member for children’s services, said: “We know people don’t become foster carers because of the money, but providing the right financial support is important.

"There is agreement within the council that this is the right thing to do - both for our foster carers and for the children in our care.”

The spend to save initiative comes to light just a week after a CN Group investigation revealed foster care places for older teenagers are one of the areas set to be scaled back as a fresh round of budget cuts hit the council.

Instead, 16 and 17-year-olds in the county will be encouraged to move onto the council's Homestay scheme - which provides eight to ten hours of guidance every week to help them to live independently.

The projected savings are based on an increase of 15 foster home placements every year for the next three years.

Cllr Burns added: "I hope this decision demonstrates how much we value our existing carers and attracts new carers to come forward.

“We need more local carers so we can meet the needs of children in Cumbria, in their own communities.

"While there will always be a need to place children with independent fostering agencies, our aim is to ensure as many of our young people as possible are well-matched with Cumbria’s own foster carers and can benefit from the excellent support networks we provide."

The move comes as local authorities nationwide struggle to balance the rising cost of running children's services with dwindling funds from central government.

The situation has reached crisis point with the majority of councils in the country now struggling to find enough cash to meet demand for this vital service.

Figures shared by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reveal the overspend across the country this year is likely to reach £655m by the end of March.

This is because councils have suffered cuts to their funding of £2.4 billion since 2010 - with £1.6 billion stripped from 'early intervention' services alone.

In Cumbria, foster carers receive an allowance which varies from £131 per week for children aged up to four-years-old and £209 per week for teenagers aged 16 or 17-years-old.

They also receive a weekly fee - a sum which varies according to the age of the child in their care.

It is this payment that will double in 2018/19 - from £36 per week to £72 for Band 1 foster carers and from £135 a week to £270 for those in Band 3.

It means a foster parent with two children - a child aged between 11 and 15-years-old and one aged 16 or 17 - will receive an annual combined income of around £27,000.

Struggling to balance the books - the councils with the biggest forecast overspend on children's services this year

Somerset - £14.6m

Sheffield - £11.1m

Tower Hamlets - £10.8m

Cumbria - £9.7m

Wandsworth - £9.6m

How much does a foster care placement cost in Cumbria - and other questions

Foster carers in Cumbria are paid an allowance and a weekly fee.

From April, the weekly fee will be:

Band 1 from £36.33 to £72.66

Band 2 from £70.14 to £140.28

Band 3 from £135.03 to £270.06

Value of allowances per week:

Age of child

0-4 £131.04

5-10 £144.55

11-15 £165.55

16-17 £209.51

Council budget wins approval

PLANS to cut £33 million of spending from Cumbria 's services were formally adopted by the county authority last week.

Cumbria County Council's 2018/19 budget was approved by a majority of elected members at its annual finance meeting.

It included a series of reductions in spending to services such as new library books, public health and foster care places for older teens.

The council has been hit with successive funding decreases for 11 years, with £214m carved from its annual spending.

Further cuts of £70m need to be identified by 2022.