Work has begun to try to prevent older children in the Rotherham area from going into care because council bosses know it is more likely to have a negative impact on their life chances.
Rotherham Council is currently wrestling with the problem of increased numbers of ‘looked after children’ in its care and is introducing new measures to try to reduce numbers by improving the way it deals with children needing help.
But it is known that children aged 14 or over who end up being ‘looked after’ by the local authority are aware that “young people admitted to care over the age of 14 are known to achieve far worse outcomes and bring with them a disproportionate level of placement costs.”
Numbers in that age group who were put into placements has been going down, but a report to councillors states: “Whilst there is an improving picture more awareness raising work is required amongst social workers to help them make more informed decisions as to the appropriateness of older children becoming looked after.”
Rotherham has seen numbers of ‘looked after children’ grow recently, with more entering the system and fewer leaving, with the slower exit rate blamed partly on the increased workload social workers face as they struggle to cope with more children.
That is compounded because the market for placements locally is saturated, meaning some have to be placed further away in a move which adds travelling time to the demands social workers already face.
It means Rotherham’s numbers of ‘looked after children’ are “significantly higher” than its neighbours, at just over 110 for every 10,000 residents, compared to an area average of 81.
Discharges have slowed by around a third recently and the report states: “This significant decline in discharge activity can be attributed to increased average caseloads, greater travelling times to placements due to market saturation and a lack of contact service capacity.
“This in turn reduces social worker resources needed to progress children out of care.”
As a result a project called Right Child Right Care has been established, to review the needs of children on long term placements.
From all those looked after by the authority, 357 were reviewed and 170 of those identified as having a viable alternative to remaining ‘looked after’, including adoption in 38 cases.
“The project has been created to review the ongoing need for children to remain looked after on a long term basis and where appropriate to apply targeted discharge activity.”