Barnsley Cabinet Members have today, (Wednesday, 2 October) been informed of the outcomes concerning the latest review of the borough’s Placement and Sufficiency Strategy for Children in Care and Care Leavers.
Cabinet is acutely aware that a combination of rising demand among vulnerable and troubled children; the state of the market for placements, together with the lack of a sustainable level of long-term funding for children’s social care, has resulted in a widely felt, national children in care crisis.
Therefore it is crucial that each year, the council remains diligent in overseeing how much it is able to spend within this significant area of expenditure, while making sure it continues to be compliant with its statutory duty to these children.
Following the council’s adoption of a refreshed Placement and Sufficiency Strategy last year, an initial review was conducted to consider any characteristics among children in need of care in the borough, together with developments in national policy, which could impact upon spending limits within the system, reduce the quality of service or drive up costs.
Progress made includes:
- Despite a national rise in the numbers of children in local authority care, Barnsley has maintained low rates due to a strong Early Help offer, preventing children from entering care, together with strong permanency planning for children in care. Performance was strong during 2018/19 with an increasing percentage of young people leaving care as a result of Special Guardianship Orders, Child Arrangement Orders or Residential Orders.
- Barnsley remains a top performer for the percentage of children who are being successfully adopted.
- There has been an increase in the number of local authority foster carers who are able to meet the needs of older children aged 14 or more. A continuation of this trend will be of crucial importance in helping to respond to local demand.
- At 135 days the council remains on track in meeting the challenging local target for the period of time taken to conduct a foster carer assessment (125 days). This is significantly better than the national average.
- Based upon expenditure per head of the population, unit costs for placing children in care amount to £203 which is lower than the local authority group average of £279.
Ongoing challenges include:
- Although Barnsley Council is successfully improving capacity within internal foster care, this is within a context of a highly competitive market.
- There has been an 11percent increase in the number of adolescents entering care, during 2018/19 due to a greater national awareness of the needs of older children. An older care cohort often includes some children with more complex needs and therefore requiring more intensive and specialist support.
- The cost of secure welfare placements to meet the complex needs of individual children and for which there is no alternative.
- Barnsley has a high number of adolescent children who are placed in the borough by other local authorities due, for example, to the closure of residential facilities within their area(s) or other risks. This equated to 229 children as at 31st March this year.
- At the same time and, in order to meet the council’s commitment to care leavers, there has been an increase in the use of semi-independent placements for the purpose of supporting care leavers making the transition to independent living.
- While the percentage of ongoing placements lasting two years or more has reduced, the percentage of children who had been in care for 12 months or more, during 2018/19 increased from 65.4 per cent to per cent.
The following immediate priorities identified are:
- To develop the local market through ensuring the availability of family placements, including for children and young people with complex needs who require care.
- To continue to reduce the use of external residential placements and, at the same time, continue to increase the number and range of internal fostering placements on offer.
- To maintain improvements in the use of kinship arrangements, including Special Guardianship Orders and Child Arrangement Orders as alternatives to admissions into care.
- To develop the provision of emergency fostering beds and increase independent and supported living provision for young people aged 16 or over together with care leavers.
- Revise care pathways and support services for adolescents involved in risky behaviour or at risk of criminal exploitation, through the current review of adolescent support services.
- To identify local carers who are able to offer emergency placements at short notice in a crisis.
Projected looked after children placement costs show an additional annual funding requirement of £0.195m and £0.142m in 2020/21 and 2021/22 respectively. Members were advised that expenditure to meet the additional costs identified in the annual review have already been incorporated into the Council’s Medium Term Financial Strategy.
The Barnsley Children and Young People’s Plan 2019-22, which contains details of how Barnsley’s Children and Young People’s Trust aims to provide significant improvements in outcomes for children, young people and families throughout the borough can be found here