Efforts to reduce £1.6m children's social care deficit

Coun Wayne Daley, cabinet member for childrens services.
Coun Wayne Daley, cabinet member for childrens services.

Northumberland council bosses are confident they can reduce the £1.6million deficit which is forecast this year in children’s social care.

A report to councillors explained that this is despite an additional £3million in the 2018-19 budget, over and above the £2.5million added in the previous financial year.

It says that the forecast overspend is ‘largely due to the continuing cost pressures around external residential placements across a mixture of independent special schools, residential homes and short-term property rentals for young people’.

At today’s meeting of the council’s family and children’s services committee, it was emphasised that this situation was not unique to Northumberland.

Members were told that a specialist placement can cost the council up to £5,000 a week, but even this is lower than elsewhere in the country where figures of £8,000 a week are seen.

Coun Wayne Daley, cabinet member for children’s services, said: “There is a trajectory across almost all local authorities of overspend in children’s social care because of pressure on places.”

Cath McEvoy, the executive director of children’s services, added that they were confident they can reduce the deficit and are looking at how they can wipe it out completely.

The pressures are partly linked to a shortage of special school places in the county, with the council already having approved the creation of an extra 50 places at Blyth’s The Dales, through the creation of a satellite site – Ashdale – in Ashington, and an additional 32 places at Hexham Priory.

Coun Daley added: “As an administration, we have a commitment for significant capital investment and we are identifying new sites, but that won’t happen overnight.”

The council also has also plans to develop additional in-house residential homes, however, they are unlikely to be ready before 2019-20.

In more positive news, it was reported that caseloads for social workers in Northumberland were coming down and, because of new initiatives, it is believed they will not escalate as they did in the past. This improvement is against a backdrop of rising caseloads across the region.

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service