Over spend of nearly £16m
Torbay, Plymouth and Devon councils face a total predicted overspend of nearly £16million by the end of the financial year in March.
They are all having to find extra cash to balance the books and increase budgets for next year despite reduced overall funding from central government.
The unplanned costs are hitting local authorities right across England, with a total estimated overspend of more than £800million on children’s social care.
The councils are blaming a big rise in the number of looked-after children, soaring costs and an increase in complex cases requiring expensive placements.
The services to protect at-risk children must be provided by law.
The Local Government Association is now calling on the Government for more cash to tackle what it calls a crisis in the sector.
The Government says it has provided millions of pounds extra for councils to cope with increased pressure on care services.
In one case in Plymouth, councillors were told the cost of looking after a single child with complex needs was £50,000 a week.
They heard five new complex cases in less than two months had added £1m to the city’s care bill.
In the Labour-run city, councillors have blamed the Government’s austerity programme for an increase in family breakdowns.
They also accused some private firms of cashing in on the rising demand to provide care for looked-after children.
Some councils are facing difficulty recruiting suitably qualified senior social workers, which means jobs are filled with expensive agency workers.
In one attempt to tackle rising costs, local authorities have joined forces in the Westcountry to combine their buying power for care placements.
The three Devon councils are all reporting overspending on children’s social care compared to their planned budgets.
The estimated end-of-year extra costs, using the latest available figures, are £4.2million in Torbay, £4.1million in Plymouth and £7.3million for the rest of Devon.
The county council’s children’s services as a whole are predicted to end the year £11.1m over-budget.
In Torbay, a budget report describes the issue as “a real cause for concern.”
Last year the council injected an extra £3m into children’s services, but saw the number of looked-after children rise by a fifth in the six months to June from 293 to 358.
In Plymouth there were 432 children in care by the end of June, up by a tenth from the year before.
A report to the city council’s Cabinet in January highlighted the “unprecedented demand and increased costs and complexity” for children’s care placements.
The city’s budget for children, young people and families was facing a predicted overspend of more than £4.5million, mostly due to the extra cost of care placements which was running at £4.1m at the end September.
Cllr Sue McDonald, Plymouth’s cabinet member for children, said despite funding cuts and increased spending on statutory services, the city council was working hard on preventative schemes to improve the prospects for vulnerable children.
She said that across England and Wales, social services departments were receiving 1,770 referrals for children every day, meaning on average there was a contact every 49 seconds.
The Labour councillor said the rising number of looked-after children and complex cases was driving the increased spending, and added: “We certainly need an injection of cash.”
A report to the council said: “This increasing financial demand on Children’s Services is not just a local issue, but is seen nationally and is a culmination of rising demand, complexity of care, rising costs and the availability of suitable placements.”
Cllr Mark Lowry, Plymouth’s cabinet member for finance, has pointed out continuing cuts had left care services for adults and children close to breaking point, describing extra Government money announced in last year’s Budget as a “drop in the ocean”.
“We are seeing the consequences of 10 years of the Government’s austerity programme through a rapid increase in the number of very vulnerable people needing help, whether due to age and frailty, illness, poor mental health, abuse or homelessness,” said the Labour councillor.
Across the country, the Local Government Association says 133 out of 152 councils (88 per cent) are overspending on their children’s budgets this year, totalling £806m.
The association estimates children’s services will face a £1.3billion funding gap by 2025 and is calling for the Government to inject new money into the system.
The association says more than 75,000 children are in care in England, the highest level since the 1980s.
It is warning that the need to protect children from immediate harm has led to cuts in early intervention schemes.
Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, said: “This should be a wake-up call to the country-wide crisis we are facing in funding services to protect vulnerable children and young people, which as these figures show is now being felt in all towns and cities across the country.
“The fact that the overwhelming majority of councils are now being forced to spend more than they had planned to on children’s social care highlights the urgent need for the Government to provide new and long-term significant funding for children’s services.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We want every child to have the best start in life, with the opportunities and the stability to fulfil their potential, which is why we have made £200 billion available to councils up to 2020 for local services including those for children and young people.
“We know there are pressures on councils, which is why we are providing an additional £410million in the Budget for adult and children’s social care and an extra £84million, over five years, to expand innovative practice to support vulnerable families across a further 20 councils.”