Barnsley’s plan for the way it provides care for children has been ‘refreshed’ for the second time in four years as council staff work to keep pace with changing circumstances – which include the closure of care homes in neighbouring authorities and increasing numbers of young asylum seekers who arrive without parents.
It means the council will spend an additional £900,000 on the arrangements it has for children who need care placements, though councillors have been told that will ensure children will always get the care they need when it is needed.
The new arrangements also mean it is likely children taken into care will be able to remain local to their natural family, something which is regarded as beneficial but as pressure on places increases is not always possible for local authorities to guarantee.
The ‘Barnsley Placement and Sufficiency Strategy for Children in Care’ was introduced in 2014 and was overhauled two years later, with the current review starting a year after that.
Numbers of children in care have risen from 250 to around 300 and that number is forecasted to remain stable until 2020, though actual numbers fluctuate. That is below the national average, based on population size.
One method of keeping costs under control is a council policy of recruiting more of its own foster carers, which means more expensive fostering agencies can be used less, and councillors have been told “gradual progress” is being made in that area.
Barnsley Council is also regarded as performing “exceptionally well” in the numbers of children placed for adoption.
The thrust of the new strategy is to prevent children from entering the care system where possible and to work to get those who do enter the care system out again as quickly as possible, while providing the best arrangements available for those who remain in the care of the council.
The new arrangements are designed to focus on needs of the most vulnerable children.
This year the council is expecting to spend £13.3m on placements for children and is facing a “financial pressure” of £650,000 for the current year, caused by the need to use private residential care which costs an average of £2,870 for each child each week.
Barnsley Council Chief Executive Diana Terris said: "I would just like to stress how important it is to act at the right time and the right place.
"We have really worked hard to get that local offer. We know it is good for children to stay close to the local family."