COUNCIL chiefs are spending millions more each year taking higher numbers of children into care.
Bournemouth council has spent £2.28m over budget this year, taking the children’s social care bill to £25.5m. Dorset County Council’s overspend is forecast at £1.9m this year, on top of the £27.1m budgeted.
Poole council is also spending more to deal with a rise in the number of children they are looking after, taking the county wide bill to £67.8m Social care chiefs have told the Echo how the pressures of investigating increasing numbers of concerned calls about children has heightened pressure on social workers and budgets.
The rise in costs is due to a 39 per cent jump in children being taken into care in the last five years across the county.
The latest figures show 776 children are being looked after by foster parents, in homes and other placements away from their parents as they are believed to be “at risk of significant harm”.
Jane Portman executive director for adults and children services, told Bournemouth council’s cabinet that the children’s social care department had based their original budget of £23.1m on having 250 children in care this year, as that was the usual figure.
But she said having an additional 29 “looked after children” is “creating this pressure”.
Bournemouth’s head of children’s social care told the Daily Echo there is a spike in concerned calls each time a high profile case of neglect and child abuse comes to light nationally.
“There has been some terrible tragedies recently like with Daniel Pelka,” said Jane Portman.
“They raise people’s awareness about safeguarding children and referrals to safeguarding teams do rise as people are more aware and alert.”
Mrs Portman said research shows more than half of the prison population were in care as children.
But she believes that is due to the original reasons for which they were taken into care, rather than their time in care.
“If children do not form good bonds with an adult that can significantly have a very negative impact on them in the future,” she said.
“If children are not getting the proper care then that can impact on them being able to attach and make positive relationships in future.”
She added: “When a child has to be taken into care it’s a huge decision because we know children who experience the care system are much less likely to do well in life.
“They are taken into care when it is in the best interests of that child.” Mrs Portman said her 230-strong team continue to be proud of their success in giving youngsters the chance to succeed in life. And her team welcome the help of residents and staff in other public services raising any fears they have.
She said: “The message we always try to give is that if you are worried, don’t think ‘what if I’m wrong’, think ‘what if I’m right’.
“That means we then get the opportunity to check people are safe.”
Mrs Portman said her team is finding that financial pressures on families are having an increased impact.
Job loss, reduced benefits, mental health problems, domestic violence and addictions to alcohol and drugs effect the way some parents prioritise their children.
But the council is investing in early intervention to help more families stay together.
A total of 214 youngsters are currently in child protection plans aimed at doing that.
“If parents have mental health issues it’s sometimes very hard for them to put parenting first,” Mrs Portman added.
“That’s not because they are bad parents, it is because they have other issues that they are prioritising.”
She said children are often referred due to neglect “in its many forms”.
“That’s physical neglect, not being fed properly and we’ve got some families with large numbers of children upwards of eight and there’s emotional neglect.”
The latest figures show a total of 776 children are in the care of Bournemouth, Poole and Dorset County Councils, a rise from 560 in March 2009.
Those figures represent a 39 percent rise.
A total of 342 children are now in the care of Dorset County Council, 279 under Bournemouth council and 155 with Poole council.
Government figures for March 2009 show 265 for Dorset, 180 for Bournemouth and 115 in Poole.
Budget increase for looking after children
BOURNEMOUTH council’s budget for children’s social care has grown by nearly £5m in two years.
For the 2011 to 2012 financial year the budget started at £20.6m with £21.2m spent in the end.
For 2012 to 2013 the budget was £20.5m, with a final spend of £22.3m. This year the budget started at £23.2m and already stands at £25.5m.
This year the council has created 26 new jobs, including four managers and 15 social workers.
Dorset County Council’s budget for the children and families service was £25.1m in 2011 to 2012 and was raised to £27.1 for the last two years, with this year’s spend expected end up at £29m.
Poole council’s budget is £13.1m this year but in July councillors approved a £214,000 overspend, which has not yet been used. In the previous year the budget was £12.6m, which is around the same as the year 2011 to 2012.
High profile cases like those of Daniel Pelka and Hamzah Khan are believed to have led to an increase in concerned calls to social workers. Daniel Pelka was starved and beaten at his Coventry home and four-year-old Hamza’s mummified remains were found in his cot in Bradford.
Referrals (concerned calls) to Bournemouth council about children in the last three months show a rise of 48 percent.
Case study: Louise Kerrison
LOUISE Kerrison spent around two months being looked after by a foster carer at weekends when she was younger and said it had a positive effect on both her and her mother’s lives.
“I was only seven or eight,” she said.
“It gave us a break from everything that had been going on.
“So for us it was a good thing.”
Louise, now working as an apprentice accommodation support worker in Bournemouth, spent the rest of the week with her mother.
The 25-year-old said her foster carer was a woman who was older than her mum and remembers thinking ‘what’s going on’ when the foster care started.
“She was a stranger and I did not understand what was happening but over those weeks we got to know a routine, she added.
“I was frightened at first but then it turned out to be fun.”
Louise said she knows somebody in care in another town who suffered physical abuse at the hands of a female foster.
But that was more than 10 years ago and she still felt that in total the care system had helped her friend over time.
“Being in care has done her the world of good,” Louise said.
“And hopefully there are more checks on foster parents now,” she added.
COUNCILS have their own teams of foster carers and also use agencies. Bournemouth council has 279 children in care including 10 in adoption placements, 30 living in homes and 215 in foster care. From the total in foster care 95 children are with “in-house” carers and 120 are with agency foster carers.
Bournemouth Council welcomes anyone married, single or in a same sex relationship to apply to be a foster carer, call 0800 009 3084.
Poole council’s latest figures show they have 155 children in care.
Jane Underhill, fostering team manager, Borough of Poole, said: “We are always looking to recruit new foster carers, including specialist carers. We would encourage anyone considering becoming a foster carer to contact us to find out more information by either visiting boroughofpoole.com/fostering or telephone 01202 714711.”
Of the 342 children now in the care of Dorset County Council a total of 246 are in foster care, 170 of those looked after ‘in-house’.
Stuart Riddle, head of children and families at Dorset County Council, said: “There are many factors behind the increase in numbers of looked after children.
“We have learned lessons from serious case reviews, and other professionals and members of the public have a higher awareness of child welfare issues and are more willing to talk to us about the concerns which they have.
“For a number of years council budgets have been shrinking so prioritising spending in key areas is essential.
“We are working smarter to find solutions that meet the needs of looked after children.”
To become a foster carer for Dorset County Council call 0800 1959654 or visit dorsetforyou.com/fostering for more information.