Further to the meeting of the Board held on 30 August 2012 the Deputy Director, Safeguarding and Specialist Services presented a report regarding the significant budget pressures facing the Safeguarding social work service.
The Board's attention was first drawn to the Independent Fostering Agency budget pressure of £824k. Whilst there had been a small decrease in the number of looked after children, overall there continued to be an upward trend. Members were advised of four key factors which had an impact on such numbers as follows:-
(i) the number of large sibling groups accommodated within Middlesbrough;
(ii) Case Law which determined the status of 'Connected Persons' family and friend carers;
(iii) Case Law which stated that young people who had been in custody were deemed to have been looked after;
(iv) the national shortage of adopters, which meant that despite 'best efforts' there were a significant number of children for whom adoption was not an option and they were placed with foster carers, often in independent fostering agency placements at a significant cost.
In terms of the in-house Fostering Budget the Board was advised of a £80,000 budget pressure as the service attempted to accommodate as many children and young people with in-house foster carers. The expansion of the in-house fostering scheme was considered to be an important component of a strategy to reduce overall placement costs. Specific reference was made to measures being taken which included the Mayor leading a drive to recruit more foster carers and the Chief Executive had taken the operational lead in a cross-departmental initiative to recruit more foster carers.
Reference was made to the anticipated pressure of £780,000 on the Children's Agency Residential Budget and a review of the Council's Residential Strategy with the aim of achieving significant savings in 2013/2014 and modest savings in 2014/2015. It was noted that a number of options would be presented to the Safeguarding Project Board later in the year.
It was reported that the current contract with Five Rivers to provide three residential homes in Middlesbrough which was due to end was currently being negotiated with a view to extending to ensure that the young people's placements within the homes remained stable. An indication was also given of a current exercise to establish whether there would be any interest in providing a range of residential options for Middlesbrough.
The Adoption Service faced considerable challenges in providing adoption placements for children. It was recognised that both locally and nationally, there was a shortage of adopters prepared to adopt older children over the age of six, particularly boys, sibling groups of three children or more, children who were born opiate dependent, as well as children who may be at risk of the effects of foetal alcohol syndrome or blood borne infections.
It was noted that the Adoption Team were continuing to recruit new adopters and had been very successful in encouraging adopters to take subsequent siblings of their adopted child.
Members were advised that the financial pressures related to the fees that were paid to other agencies and local authorities when Middlesbrough purchased external adoptive placements at a cost of £20,000 - £25,000 per child, per placement. The Council was actively seeking to recruit in-house adopters and it was also lobbying central government about the high fees for placements.
Members reiterated their previous concerns regarding the rising budget pressures with particular regard to the increased number of looked after children. An indication was given of the high costs involved with regard to an increasing number of children with very complex needs and the need to pursue a range of strategies to cope with such a demand.
In discussing the measures being pursued to recruit additional foster carers the difficulties associated with competing independent agencies and other local authorities in the Tees Valley was acknowledged. Appropriate marketing and channels of providing information such as Ward newsletters was an important element of the overall recruitment strategy.
ORDERED as follows:-
1. That the Deputy Director, Safeguarding and Specialist Services be thanked for the information provided.
2. That a further update on the budgetary position be submitted to the Board in six month's time.