Council bosses are drawing up plans to prevent Sandwell children’s social services falling further into the red as it tries to cope with spiralling numbers of looked after youngsters.

The move comes as a strategic risk register gave the authority’s vulnerable young people’s department its highest ‘red’ rating.

The number of cared for children in Sandwell has risen from 601 in April 2017 to 895 by February this year.

Council officers say they have now earmarked funds from financial reserves to help bail out the service if authority’s cabinet chooses to pump in extra cash.

Sandwell Council House
Sandwell Council House
 

Children’s social care was transferred to Sandwell Children’s Trust in 2018 after it was branded inadequate by Ofsted.

Last October, the trust wrote to the Department of Education forecasting an overspend of £3.6m by the end of March this year.

Now council officers are saying extra cash is needed from central government if the trust is to cope with the growing demand.

In a report to a meeting of the Audit and Risk Assurance Committee they have warned: ‘If the rate of demand and pressures on children’s social care (experienced nationally and locally) continue to increase at the same or at a higher rate than that experienced during 2017/18, then without a national funding solution and improved children’s social care services, this will have a detrimental impact on the financial resilience of Sandwell Children’s Trust.’

Darren Carter, Executive Director for Resources, told the committee this week the threat to Sandwell Children’s Trust was part of a national problem of increasing demand.

“I have been involved in children’s care services since 2003 and demand levels we see in the system now far outstrips anything that I’ve ever seen in that 15 year period.”

Saying officers from the trust and the council were having ‘constant’ discussions despite the council already allocating a £58 million budget this year - £13 million more that it spent in 2017.

He said: “I am anticipating that Sandwell Children’s Trust will end the current financial year in a significant deficit position.”

 

He went on to say officers were working on a medium term financial plan which was affordable and ensured the trust’s financial future and could include using cash from reserves if approved by the council’s cabinet.

But he warned: “Those words are very easy to say.  Coming up with a medium term financial strategy that is both affordable to the council and delivers a financial stable children’s trust when demand for children’s services is so high, really does presents a significant challenge to this council and all councils.”

Frances Craven, chief executive of  the trust, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service earlier this week: “The rising number of children in care is a national issue and many areas of the country are facing an increase in the number of children entering care.

“In the trust we work hard with families who are struggling to keep children safely at home by providing them with early help.

“However, if children are unable to live with their families, it is our duty to do all we can to provide a home where they are safe and cared for.

“When children do need to come into care, we work closely with their parents to return them home as soon as it is safe and appropriate to do so.”