Two new children's homes planned for Northumberland as out-of-county care costs spiral

County Hall, Morpeth
 Picture by Jane ColtmanCounty Hall, Morpeth
 Picture by Jane Coltman
County Hall, Morpeth Picture by Jane Coltman
Northumberland County Council is aiming to build at least two new children’s homes in the next two years, as it seeks to avoid the spiralling costs of out-of-county care placements.

These placements were one of the chief reasons behind the overspend in the authority’s children’s services department in the 2018-19 financial year.

It overspent by £2.6million in the end, despite an additional £3million in the budget, over and above the £2.5million added the previous year.

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Further growth of £1.2million was approved for this year ‘as the existing pressures look set to continue’.

A finance update at Thursday’s meeting of the council’s family and children’s services committee revealed that children’s services, while currently running £4million below budget, is forecasting another £2million deficit this year.

The report to councillors said: ‘The key pressure continues to be linked to the purchasing budgets which are forecast to overspend by £4.529million.

‘As with previous years, this is mainly due to the overall cost of out-of-county residential care placements. This pressure also includes additional care staff required to support short-term placements in emergency accommodation. There are currently 36 placements of this type, of which 34 are anticipated to remain for the full year.

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‘This pressure is offset by underspends across a number of teams on staffing due to vacancies and turnover. The other main area of offset is an expected £1.1million additional contribution in relation to jointly funded care packages from Northumberland CCG (Clinical Commissioning Group).’

In response to a question about dealing with the ongoing issue of external placements, Cath McEvoy-Carr, the authority’s executive director of children’s services, announced that the council is planning to build two new children’s homes within the next 18 months to two years.

She added: “There will always be a need to use out-of-county services, but the market at the moment, it’s a licence to print money almost and we are being quoted some ridiculous prices.”

Coun Wayne Daley, cabinet member for children’s services, emphasised that it was ‘at least’ two new children’s homes, with the first two sites already identified.