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Children in care surpasses 900 as budget pressures bite

Wednesday, 15 November 2023 14:10

By Bradley Gerrard, local democracy reporter

Children painting activities (image courtesy: Gautam Arora / Unsplash)

Service's finances remain under pressure

The number of children in care in Devon has surpassed 900 as budget pressures rise.

The county is now responsible for 906 such youngsters, with the number rising by 115 in the year to September alone.

Within this, the number of unaccompanied children seeking asylum hit 72 that month, up from 25 the year before.

Stuart Collins, director of Devon County Council’s children and young people’s futures services, told the children’s scrutiny committee this week that the care figure is “higher than I would hope and what I think it should be”.

“I would like to drive down the numbers in care and make sure children are in the best place if they do go into care and that we achieve the best outcomes,” he said.

He added the county is looking to develop its early help service, which at present only has the capacity to deal with 88 cases.

“This is too small for a county the size of Devon, and if there is no help in the early help scheme then they are referred to social services,” he said.

“We have got to drive down the reliance on the statutory services by driving early intervention work.”

The children’s scrutiny committee has agreed to launch a budget monitoring group to scrutinise the service’s finances year-round, rather than at intervals.

The children and young people’s futures service is facing a £9.3 million overspend this financial year, with a £7 million overspend due for the children’s social care segment.

“The pressure is made up mostly of the cost of children in care placements, and agency staffing costs,” a report to councillors said.

Half of front-line social care posts in Devon are currently held by agency workers.

Donna Manson, the council’s chief executive, said its agency staffing bill is a “significant outlier” that needed to be brought under control.

The council  is experiencing an increasing number of children from outside its area being placed in Devon.

It said it is working on the development of three new residential homes to accommodate children and young people, with the first phase of one of them  set to be made available this month.

It has also secured a £1.1 million grant from the government to help support people leaving care, with the money set to be used to accommodate at least 24 care leavers in up to six buildings.
 

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