Changes could be underway in Dorset to both attract and support foster carers.

Interim head of children’s service Theresa Leavy has been holding talks with some carers in an attempt to improve the service.

The support strategy goes hand in hand with the objective of finding homes within Dorset for many of the 473 children currently in the care of the council – around a quarter of them living out of county, more than 20 miles from home.

Ms Leavy told councillors: “Too many (children) are in residential care, not because they need residential care, but because we didn’t offer enough support to foster carers.”

She has been meeting with foster carers who had come up with “sensible and practical” solutions, which would be looked at. The discussions had included delegating authority for carers to act in a child’s best interest without, necessarily, referring to a social worker; around respite care, and the understanding and being trained to support a child who has suffered past trauma.

Ms Leavy said consideration might be given to offering children outdoor learning courses, or other positive activity, rather than respite with another foster carers and to bringing family support workers into foster carers homes to help when needed. She said there was a need to address the language and actions being witnessed by children in foster care – with upsets often caused by foster carers asking for respite and the foster child taking this as a reflection on their behaviour; or of foster carers asking for respite and then taking their own children out for a treat, or on holiday, excluding the foster child.

The head of service said that something was wrong if children in care were not getting the treats and holidays that other children were. The committee also heard more could be done to encourage Dorset Council staff to become foster carers or to offer incentives to carers, or helping with larger homes for those who were prepared to take on more children.

Further investigation will also take place around the idea of setting up clusters of foster carers in certain areas, able to offer support and guidance to each other.