NUMBERS of vulnerable children requiring care places in Barnsley have increased due to closures in neighbouring towns and cities - resulting in a service overspend of more than £700,000 in 2018/19, it was revealed this week.
The number of children who were in the care of Barnsley Council during the period equated to 320 children - against an original target of 300 by 2020 - due to 50 more youngsters entering the system in the year’s third quarter, many of whom were aged under five.
Three unaccompanied asylum-seeking children were also dispersed to the borough, finding placements with foster carers who are trained to meet their specific needs.
The service had an overspend of £714,000 on placements in 2018/19 - totalling £13.87m - due to the higher-than-anticipated demand.
A report, discussed by ruling cabinet members on Wednesday, said: “This strategy assumes that the care population in Barnsley will remain stable at around the 300 figure for the next two years.
Measures taken have seen the average gross cost of children in care per week fall by 8.8 per cent to £786 in 2018.
“Whereas placement stability within the borough remains better than both the national and statistical neighbour averages, the percentage of children experiencing three or more placements has risen from 3.9 per cent in December 2017 to 4.8 per cent at the end of March this year.
“Of greater concern are the challenges highlighted regarding the availability of placements for older children and adolescents. This is due to the national care crisis which has seen increasing numbers and a resulting demand on suitable care placements which can lead to the only option being the most high-cost residential provisions.
“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 areas or other risks. This equated to 229 children as of March 31 this year.
“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 71 per cent.
“Children in care are one of the most vulnerable groups in our society. It is the responsibility of the local authority as corporate parents to support each of them as individuals in order to enable them to achieve their maximum potential.”
There has been an 11 per cent increase in the number of adolescents entering care, while an annual review delivered by Coun Margaret Bruff on Wednesday revealed the pool of foster carers for children aged 14 and above had been increased.
“A continuation of this trend will be of crucial importance in helping to respond to local demand, Coun Bruff added.
“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.
“Members will be acutely aware that a combination of rising demand among vulnerable children, the state of the market for placements, together with the lack of a sustainable level of funding for children’s social care has resulted in what is widely perceived to be a national children in care ‘crisis’.
“This has meant that year-on-year the council must maintain diligent oversight over tolerance levels within this significant area of expenditure.”