Financial pressure on Rotherham children’s services may have peaked after care figures soared this year

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Numbers of children in the care of Rotherham Council are expected to fall in the months ahead after numbers spiked earlier this year, contributing to a situation which has left the authority’s expected spending on children and young people £13m adrift for the current year.

The council’s ruling Cabinet has been told those figures are expected to fall back into line by the end of the financial year, with the authority putting into place cost saving measures which include only replacing staff who are vital to the department’s operation and introducing a new care system designed to help speed up the process of getting young people back living with their families.

The cost of supporting children in care is a major expense for the council and numbers have increased greatly this year, with 21 fresh cases in July alone, from an increase of 33 over the course of the year to that point.

But since then numbers have declined and the hope is they will continue to fall, which is a benefit to both the community and the council’s finances.

A further pressure has been a Government decision to allow young people up to the age of 25 access to local authorities assistance schemes for those leaving care and supporting themselves as adults.

In Rotherham, the system is highly rated by Ofsted, meaning it is recognised as beneficial by those who use it, so has a high take up rate.

Coun Gordon Watson, the Cabinet’s spokesman for children and young people, told colleagues: “The number of young people accessing leaving care, that is going up.

“One reason is that it now covers young people up to the age of 25. I am not criticising this, it is a fact.

“The leaving care service (in Rotherham) is outstanding, Ofsted have said that.

“One effect is young people want to be part of the leaving care service because it does such a good job.

“It is an extra expense, due to the fact it is so good. You wouldn’t want it any other way,” he said.

The meeting also heard of other areas where spending is outstripping initial predictions, with work being done to bring the sums back into line.

Council leader Chris Read told the meeting: “We set out at the start of the year with a budget contingency.

“We are predicting we will come in within that contingency. We are having to take quite firm measures within budgets to make sure we don’t spend where it is not necessary.

“It is a real challenge. This is the reality of austerity coming through,” he said.