23% spike in looked after children leads to £1.45m overspend

Thursday, July 11th, 2019 8:00pm

By Niall Griffiths - Local Democracy Reporter

Growing pressures on children’s services pushed Monmouthshire County Council over budget last year as the number of children in care jumped by 23%.

An increase in the costs of looking after, accommodating and legally protecting children in the authority’s care contributed to an overspend of £1.45 million in 2018/19.

Cllr Penny Jones, cabinet member for social services, health and safeguarding, says a rise in the number of looked after children is consistent with the national picture across Wales.

But a meeting has heard concerns that Monmouthshire’s situation is been exacerbated by a lack of funding from the Welsh Government.

As of June 2019, the number of children in the authority’s care stood at 182 – up from 148 in November 2018.

Finance manager Tyrone Stokes told the children and young people scrutiny committee on Tuesday: “The numbers have gone up and are possibly rising, and this has put significant financial demand and pressure on the service.”

“It can cost between £40,000 and £50,000 a year to look after a child, and that can range from £7,000 on a special guardianship order or up to perhaps £500,000 if it’s an out of county placement.”

Securing placements for 18 children cost the council £341,000 last year, with a further £489,000 spent on accommodation for young people aged between 16 and 17.

Legal costs associated with looking after children also spiralled to £252,000, though alternative legal provision is being sought for the current financial year.

Cllr Jo Watkins said the overspend was “completely understandable” given the short-term spike in looked-after children numbers.

But when asked what councillors could do to help, Mr Stokes urged members to get the message across to the Welsh Government about the need for more funding.

He said: “We’re still looking at austerity and out of 22 local authorities, we are always last in the amount of local funding we get.

“We’re seen as more affluent but the pressures in children and adult services are no different to other local authorities.”

The Welsh Government says the formula used to distribute funding to councils takes account of demographic, physical economic and social characteristics of each authority.

A spokesman said: “We are working with local authorities to develop plans to reduce the number of looked after children.

“Our aim is to rebalance the system towards better prevention and earlier intervention so families are supported to care for their own children and better outcomes are achieved across the whole care system.”

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