Children’s services is currently showing a significant in year overspend and we are working to try and reduce this by the end of the financial year. I do take this very seriously and I’m having regular budget meetings to review our spending.
The overspend is largely within children’s social care but also within special education needs.
An additional pressure comes because of the reduction in central government funding grant available to adoption services which has fallen from £1.5m to just £200,000 over the last 3 years
The children’s social care overspend consists of two elements: overspend in staffing budgets and on placements for children in care.
To make the improvements that our children deserve, and meet the improvement plan we have agreed with Ofsted, we have had to rapidly bring in significant capacity to safeguard our children.
But the reality is we do have too many agency staff. But we are in a catch 22 situation – to reduce this we need to recruit more permanent staff. But attracting excellent staff when you have an inadequate judgement on your children’s services isn’t easy.
However, we now have in place a robust recruitment strategy and we held a fantastic conference last week where we launched ‘Children at the heart of practice’ – our new social work practice framework. The event was standing room only and lots of attendees said they would be applying to work for us.
But I want to be clear -we will not compromise on quality. A critical element of our improvement plan, endorsed by DfE, relates to recruiting and retaining the very best. We have improved the ‘offer’ to social workers and team managers so that salaries are competitive, that there are high quality professional development opportunities and that there is good supervision and support.
We are also making a range of improvements in our commissioning and contracting systems for children in care so that we purchase high quality and good value placements. We are confident that, over the next year, placement costs will reduce.
But I also want to say that some of our overspend is a result of demand pressure which we were right to respond to. We have spent an additional half a million this year on looking after over 57 unaccompanied children and young people this includes providing leaving care services.
These are children fleeing war – and Lambeth is right to step up and support them. The government gives us only a fraction of the costs for these vulnerable cohort – only £87,000.
I’d also remind everyone that a recent National Audit Office report on ‘Children in need of Help and Protection’ concluded that the demand for help and protection is rising.
Ultimately the government is severing the link between local government funding and need. In a borough like Lambeth with relatively high numbers of looked after children – this means the financial pressures will only get worse.
I’d like to highlight the similarities in adult social care, where the NHS and social care services are under tremendous pressure from increased demand that is expected to continue rising for the foreseeable future. Report after report repeats this –From the care quality commission to the Kings Fund
Indeed the LGA chaired by Tories is currently lobbying govt continuously for more funding for adult social care. I’d like to see all councillors across this chamber lobbying for the demand led financial resources we need to look after Lambeth’s vulnerable children and adults.