Plans to control massive overspend on childen's services revealed by care bosses in Rotherham

Plans are being formulated to increase numbers of foster carers in Rotherham and to provide more accommodation for looked-after children in the town as the council aims to slash costs following a massive overspend in that area.

Self control: Rotherham Council has plans to balance children's services spending after 15m black hole appeared last year
Self control: Rotherham Council has plans to balance children's services spending after 15m black hole appeared last year

The children and young people’s service department spent £15.7m more than it had been given last year, largely due to the scale of demand, with the only positive development that the black hole did not grow any bigger from figures produced in February to the end of the financial year earlier this month.

Most of the problem has been in costs of paying foster carers and for children who have been living in care, with the council being forced to use independent carers who are more expensive to employ than the counterparts it recruits itself.

Numbers of children needing to be placed in homes have also meant many going outside the borough because of a lack of places the council itself has been able to provide, causing a further significant increase in costs.

Now senior officers are working on plans to address both issues and are working towards having balanced books within the next two years.

Details of how they intend to both recruit and retain more foster carers in future are still being formulated and it is expected details of that plan will go before the council’s ruling Cabinet later in the summer.

Officers are also looking to increase numbers of children who stay within Rotherham when in care, something which is widely regarded as a positive from their perspective but also good for the council because it helps to reduce costs.

Other ideas include using improved technology to create greater efficiency, such as improving computer links to allow social workers to do more from tablets or smartphones when out on cases, or waiting for court hearings, than they are able to perform at present.

Head of children’s services, Jon Stonehouse, told councillors on a scrutiny panel: “We don’t have as many foster carers as we would want, we are revising our recruitment strategy.

“A number of strands will be coming through to Cabinet for consideration in June.”

Numbers of agency staff have been reduced to levels which are below the national average and provide the council with flexibility to cover for absences.

An alternative would be to overstaff to the same extent with regular employees, which is an option that may be considered in future.

Mr Stonehouse said research had been going off across 15 local authorities in the Yorkshire region to try to find the best ways of keeping keeping children and young people in their own local authority area.

“A significant piece of work over the next couple of years will address that,” he said.

It would involve using local authority expertise to do the things the council currently has to rely on private organisations to provide.