Financial constraints have forced children’s services to start considering cash flow as well as what is best for the youngsters.
Taking this new approach has helped Falkirk Council’s social work children and families service reduce its year-end overspend by £1.9 million, from £2.8 million in 2014-15 to £870,000 overspend in 2015-16.
At the council’s scrutiny committee last week, members received an update on the department’s budget situation from director of children’s services Robert Naylor.
He stated the reduction reflected the stringent management checks and controls that are being developed and embraced throughout the new children’s services directorate.
Mr Naylor added: “We are looking to change the approach of our workforce who were previously focused, quite rightly, on getting the best care outcome for every child. There hadn’t been a great focus on what it would cost, but now there is.”
The main areas of overspend were identified as placements to external residential care homes which were £386,000 over budget in 2015-16 compared to £1.3 million in 2014/15.
Falkirk Council fostering was relatively unchanged at £115,000 over budget compared to £138,000 last year and external fostering was £831,000 compared to £840,000.
The main reasons for the significant reduction on the 2015-16 overspend compared to the year before were the fall in the numbers of young people in residential schools and residential care, resulting in a £4000 underspend in that category.
The report stated each residential school placement costs between £1639 and £4998 per child per week, while each external residential care placement costs between £2520 and £4025.
Mr Naylor said: “We’ve had a higher than average birth rate in Falkirk and currently have a lot of children of primary five, six and seven age and a large number of them are about to wash through our secondary schools.
“On top of that we have more children identifying on the autistic spectrum who require additional support. There has been a steady rise in the number of children who are looked after away from home in the Falkirk area and we think this is linked to the recession, employment issues and difficulties in family life.
“And, although we don’t have any more children looked after away from home than anywhere else, we did have a high proportion of children who were placed in a residential care home or at a residential school.”
Mr Naylor said, under the new guidelines, children’s services could potentially be responsible for the care of a young person right up to the age of 21 and, in some cases, 26.
He added: “There are areas of the budget that will continue to be under pressure. Until we recruit our own foster carers, that’s going to be a challenge. The hope is we can develop in-house alternatives to external care.”
A new consultation on realigning children’s services will seek the views of the youngsters themselves.
Mr Naylor said: “It will help us be better informed about the services we provide and allow to find out if we have the right resources in the right locations.”