The growing problem of parents and carers abusing drugs and alcohol so much their children are taken into care has been blamed for the increase in social work spending.
At a meeting of Falkirk Council’s scrutiny committee last Thursday, officers highlighted drug and alcohol misuse and rising levels of poverty as contributing factors to the current overspend in the authority’s social work department for children and families.
The report stated: “Some of these increases are a result of demographic changes, with the annual birth rate in Falkirk being 7.1 per cent higher than the national average over a 10 year period up to 2012.
“And an increasing number of children and young people are being affected by parental alcohol and drug misuse. The impact of this has been an increasing number of young children becoming accommodated and moving onto permanency.”
Baillie Billy Buchanan said: “People don’t realise the amount of money it costs us when it comes to families who have certain issues.”
The children and families budget in 2014/15 was £20.5 million and that was exceeded by £2.8 million at the year end in March, with the main pressures relating to the purchasing of external places – residential schools, residential care and fostering – for children.
There are currently 241 youngsters from the Falkirk area looked after away from home and, according to the report, ten children aged five and under were registered for adoption in 2013, 12 in 2014 and seven as of May this year.
Fostering was over budget by over £1 million – £136,000 internal and £900,00 external – in 2014/15, while external residential care was looking at a £1.3 million overspend.
Baillie Joan Paterson said early intervention with families who are having such problems might prevent children having to be taken into care and reduce the budget. She also said she was concerned Falkirk Council was in danger of losing its foster carers to higher paying private organisations like Barnardo’s.
She said: “Are we training these people up and then they are moving onto these external organisations?”
Officers said the council had not lost any of its foster carers to external bodies and that, although the monetary benefits the authority offered were not as much as outside agencies, council foster carers have stated they value the training and continued support from the council more than extra cash.