Improvements planned for children in care as Barnsley Council seeks to control costs

New measures are to be introduced to help control the rising costs of caring for ‘looked after children’ in Barnsley, which overshot the council’s budget by more than £700,000 last year.

Barnsley has fewer children in care than many similar authorities, but the costs of caring for them still accounts for more than half of all the money spent of children’s social services work.

Last year the budget of £13.9m was £714,000 short of the cash actually needed to pay for children either in direct council care or being fostered.

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In the next two years, it is anticipated the costs will continue to rise, though those expenses have already been factored in to future budget projections.

However, to ensure that both costs are controlled and children get the best care possible changes have been identified – including the increased use of in-house council foster parents, rather than relying on agencies to provide places, which tends to be more expensive.

The council aims to have no more than 300 children in its care by 2020 but last year the total stood at 320, though that figure was affected by a blip where 50 youngsters in the space of three months, with most of those aged under five.

A report to the council’s ruling Cabinet states: “The number of children in the council’s care remains significantly below that of comparable local authorities and the national average.”

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It is now anticipated that at any time the authority will need one high cost secure welfare place for a child, at a cost of £7,000 a week.

Now the council wants to improve the local availability of family placements for children in care, including those with complex needs.

It is also looking towards recruiting local carers “who are able to offer emergency placements at short notice in a crisis”, councillors were told.

Work will also be done to change support services for adolescents involved in “risky behaviour” or who may be vulnerable to being exploited by criminals.

The report has been accepted by the Cabinet.