Unexpected surge in the number of Solihull children taken into care
A “perfect storm” of problems has led to an unexpected surge in the number of Solihull children being taken into care.
More than 400 youngsters are now being looked after in the borough, which places significant pressure on the council’s budgets.
Over two years – 2018/19 and 2019/20 – the local authority was looking to save almost £1.5 million from the children’s placements service.
But councillors heard this week that, with demand continuing to rise, the wider children’s service has replaced adult social care as “the new pressure area” – posing a major financial challenge to the council.
Sally Hodges, director of children’s services and skills, said: “This time last year we were running along at around the 385 mark [for looked after children] and we set all our budgets and our proposals on the basis that the steady state we had been at – pretty much for the year.
“And around about February time of this year there was a sudden and unexpected increase and the numbers went up to, at worst, 420 something children. Which is a significant percentage increase in a very short space of time.
“We know nationally there has been a surge, in this last year in particular, in looked after numbers across the country. This is a massive pressure point for most authorities as you know.
“There are a number of theories. Is it to do with poverty? Is it to do with changes in the court system? Is it to do with more difficulties in adults – greater amounts of domestic violence, mental health, housing… I suppose the answer is that it’s a bit of all of those things.
“It is a perfect storm of circumstances that are affecting families across the piece and it’s children who feel the consequences. It’s their lives that are affected and of course we have a duty then to pick up those pieces.”
Cllr Kate Wild, the chair of the resources and delivering value scrutiny board, conceded that the council was facing “a pretty big gap” in its finances.
She asked officers if they had been through budgets “with a fine-tooth comb” and exhausted all the options to make savings.
“We can always say it’s pressure, there’s far more children coming in than we actually allowed for…
“Have you found any way at all that [can] actually alleviate this?”
Ms Hodges said an external auditor had “checked, rechecked and double checked” that the council had not taken children into the care system who did not need protection.
“We have found that this year in particular we have got some very expensive children,” she added, explaining that the secure provision required in some cases could cost thousands of pounds a week.”
Cllr Michael Gough (Con, Silhill) said: “At the moment we’re going through a new budget setting strategy and it seems pretty apparent that the problems that we’re facing are only going to get bigger, they’re not going to go away that’s for sure.
“So saving money based on cutting services is probably not the answer. Are we looking at all the areas on how we streamline our processes?”
Other pressures on the children’s budget include school transport for pupils with special needs and disabilities and support services to schools.
Because children’s services was “standing out” as the department under the greatest strain, the cabinet member for resources and delivering value, Cllr Robert Hulland, had previously ordered a review.
Officers told the scrutiny board that this process had confirmed that the service was efficiently run.
Read more: https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/local-news/unexpected-surge-number-solihull-children-15226717