The number of north children entering the foster care system in the first six months of lockdown was double that of a normal year, jumping from around 20 to 40, it has emerged.
And the impact of the pandemic on slowing down the court system means a further nine children are in limbo, waiting to go into their adoptive families.
The foster care figure of 40 was described as “astounding for Highland” by Sutherland councillor Linda Munro, who chairs Highland Council’s health, social care and wellbeing committee.
She said there are a number of factors behind the figure, underpinned by the huge pressures from lockdown.
She said: “You have to think of some foster carers shut in 24/7 with children, it’s a tremendous ask and they may be asking for help because the situation has become unmanageable.
“Then you have young people who were on the cusp of care before lockdown, and when the pressures of that kicked in it became too much for the family.
“It’s about families in crisis, foster carers asking for help, vulnerable people polarised by Covid.
“Lots of families are already very complicated, with every hue and possibility prior to the pandemic, and then along comes Covid on top of everything.
“Where there’s pressure, fragility, unmet need, it simply becomes more pressure.”
Mrs Munro likened the situation to nine or ten months’ worth of “the Christmas factor”.
“Everyone knows about the pressures on families in the build up to Christmas, and how the divorce rate goes up in January.
“It’s like that scenario multiplied by ten months, blended families having to live together, not just for the weekend.
“All of life is there, but when it’s the most fragile, it’s a cauldron of all sorts of pressures.
“Lockdown has done a lot of things to a lot of people.”
The council’s child protection teams continued to offer a full service throughout the pandemic, supporting families alongside social workers or allied professionals.
Due to continuing restrictions, the 40 children remain in foster care or kinship care, with some having to be sent out of the Highlands for foster care.
Nine children have been left waiting to be with their adoptive families due to the pandemic’s impact on the court service.
Mrs Munro said: “Adoption is a hugely legalistic process and some courts are not operating remotely, or require to be in person appearance.
“The whole process has ground to a halt more or less, and these children are paying the real cost.
“They are in foster care at the moment.
“Everything that can be done to help them keep in contact with their new family is being done, foster carers and adoptive parents are working as best as they can.
“But remember they are working through a pandemic with all sorts of restrictions.”
In light of the care service showing savings of £483,000 in 15 fulltime equivalent posts in this year’s budget, Mrs Munro moved to reassure families that none of the posts had been active in the past year.
She said: “The service has been in a state of redesign, and there has to be room to manoeuvre when you redesign, so where there was the opportunity of managing vacancies we did that quite deliberately.
“It represents almost 25% of our current vacancies, and the commitment is we will fill the other 75% going forward as part of the redesigned service.
“In the past few months we’ve managed to recruit 10 social workers which is absolutely fabulous for Highland.”