CONTROVERSIAL changes to the way payments are made to Bradford's foster carers have led to only one carer resigning, but foster service bosses warn that there are still "difficult decisions" to make about the service.

Earlier this year, Bradford Council decided to end certain fees paid to carers, including the retainers given to foster carers waiting for a child, to cut costs in light of its decreasing budget. The changes meant foster carers would no longer be paid continuously, regardless of whether or not they are looking after a child.

At the time, the council claimed 14 per cent of foster placements were vacant, costing the authority £8,300 each week. The changes, approved in September, will see carers with a vacancy having their fees halved after six weeks and stop after 12 weeks. It was estimated the council would save £144,000 a year through the changes.

The proposals drew anger from foster carers, who said it could leave them unable to pay bills and could lead to some resigning as foster carers.

A report has now been released detailing efforts to "continue dialogue" with foster carers while the authority plans for further savings.

The report, written by Patsy Burrows, fostering service manager, says: "In the report proposing the changes to fees and allowances, the risk of disruption to children’s placements should foster carers leave the service was identified. To date, there has been no significant loss of foster carers in response to the changes."

In the past year, 16 foster carers were de-registered, but the report says: "Only one has been due to the carers being unhappy with the proposed changes to fees and allowances." Other de-registrations were down to issues such as carers being unable to "demonstrate the skills and knowledge required by the fostering regulations" or due to age.

Mrs Burrows recently spoke to the council's Children's Services Scrutiny Committee about the changes, saying: "There hasn't been a huge exodus of carers since the changes came in.

"We do need to find further budget savings in the coming year, and we will need to have more difficult conversations with our foster carers soon."

Councillor Malcolm Sykes (Cons), chairman of the committee, said: "We have to make sure we carry on the dialogue with these carers, otherwise we will have a similar situation in 12 months's time."

Mrs Burrows replied: "We are in constant dialogue with them. It is important they understand the financial situation the council is in and we have been in discussions with they to ask for ways they think we can find savings."

Councillor Ralph Barry, executive for Children's Social Care, said: "Nobody is denying there are difficult conversations that will need to be had."

Cllr Sykes added: "We have to make savings, so we have to make changes to this service. We have done this without any significant harm at the moment, but we need to continue with an ongoing dialogue with carers."