We had a call a couple of weeks ago about a young child within our preferred age range who was from the other end of the county - I rang Esmeralda at work and we quickly decided we'd go ahead with the placement. When I called the duty team back, they told me a placement had been found - they had also put the call out to agency carers as new policies stated that the child must be placed within their home region if at all possible, to avoid them having to travel too far to contact with their birth families.
This is the first we'd heard about the change, and we think it's a massive step in the right direction. When Jack-Jack was placed with us as a 6 month old, he was expected to travel an hour each way to contact, three times per week, because we live on the other side of the county. He often arrived home starving, thirsty and with a full nappy, because of course the sessional worker who transported him each way couldn't give him a drink or change his nappy on the way, and we presume the same happened at the other end. I wouldn't like to think what would have happened if he'd suffered from motion sickness!
Of course, there are always two sides to the coin - agency carers are paid considerably more than local authority carers and as a general rule are offered the more "difficult to place" placements such as older children and teenagers, children with behavioural problems, or children with disabilities. Putting the needs of the child above the financial needs of the LA is both unusual and very welcome, but there is always going to be the argument that the money could be better used elsewhere. Cuts have meant that the children's social workers we've come across have huge workloads and are horribly stretched. The solution to this problem, as ever, seems to be that we need to recruit more local authority carers!