SARAH Parker’s resignation as executive director of Dorset children’s services was announced eight hours after she was questioned by councillors about rising numbers of children in care and the cost of that.

Councillors on the audit and governance committee asked her why numbers in care had increased – and on what basis next year’s budget was being prepared.

It has been stressed that Ms Parker made her decision to resign prior to the meeting and her decision was not related to the number of children in care or the cost of this.

The meeting ended with chairman Matthew Hall saying that social services budgets should be set around need – rather than fixed at the start of the year and then try and tailor who could be helped to the amount available. His comments were seen as a criticism of the level the budget had been set at this year by the Conservative cabinet.

“Dorset Council needs to decide this service is a priority and finance it based on the needs and not wishful thinking and hopes…we have got to look as funding this properly,” he said.

Children’s services are projected to currently be more than £8.5m short of the budget for looked after children at the end of the year –  which opposition councillors says is only a shortfall because the budget was set at unrealistically low levels, taking little account that the service is partially demand led and the council has no option but to respond to need, especially when safety is concerned.

Council leader Cllr Spencer Flower has consistently said that the authority is prepared to use its £28.5m reserves, an amount which had been set deliberately high because of the uncertainties of the first year of a new authority. The council currently has 469 children in its care – a figure which is higher than comparable counties.

Ms Parker’s Blueprint for Change exercise, to reorganise the county’s social services, aimed to stop children coming into care in the first place by offering parents and other carers more help and support at an early stage. The exercise is in the final phase.