Whopping cost of childcare, up again

Janet Donaldson, Director Of Children's Services
Janet Donaldson, Director Of Children's Services
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THE cost of looking after children in Calderdale who are “at risk” of harm or neglect is now £2.5 million more than planned.

The figure has emerged just days after Calderdale Council’s head of children’s social care, Pixley Clarke, unexpectedly parted company with the council.

It costs an average of just over £19,000 a year to look after a child in an unsafe situation and the number of such youngsters has risen from 324 in March to 363 at the end of September.

Councillors were warned at the end of June that the budget could be £1.5 million overspent this year, because of the increasing demand for help.

But that figure has now risen to £2.5 million, according to the director of young people’s services, Janet Donaldson.

“The longer term implications of the current and projected volume of looked after children will impact on the whole council,” she said in a report to the cabinet, which meets on Monday.

The council has been strongly criticised by inspectors in the past for leaving some children in unsafe situations and has since made major changes.

“Our performance is now in line with similar councils in terms of the percentages of children under 18 who are looked after,” said Ms Donaldson.

But it has come at a price, as the council struggles to recruit more foster parents, to place children in specialist accommodation and to recruit more social workers.

Experts on children’s services from other areas last month commented on the good progress being made in Calderdale.

However, they went on to warn that the children’s social care service “remains under funded.”

The cabinet will be asked whether it wants to pump more money into children’s care or leave the department to try to find suitable savings.

Discounts are being negotiated with fostering and residential homes outside Calderdale and “strenuous efforts” are being made to recruit permanent social workers, to replace more expensive agency staff.

The young people’s services department has a £1 million reserve to cover fluctuations in placements and charges but once spent would not be available for future years.

The council is trying urgently to recruit an additional 90 foster parents, particularly for siblings and children under the age of five.

Meanwhile, “Budget holders across the directorate have been tasked with minimising expenditure and identifying any available funds which could contribute to offsetting this overspend,” said Ms Donaldson.