A report to Herts County Council’s Resources and Performance Panel has revealed that its “Residential Strategy”, a plan to bring more of the children looked after by the council back to live in Hertfordshire and reduce the costs of external care, has been delayed and is at risk of not meeting its targets. The report on the status of the “Residential Strategy” project said that there was a high risk of the project not meeting its financial objectives and a medium risk of it not meeting its quality objectives.
The largest single item causing the council’s £16.3 million overspend is the cost of looking after children which is supposed to be addressed by the residential strategy and the panel was told that the cost of external places for children was continuing to increase.
Liberal Democrat Children’s Services spokesperson Councillor Steve Jarvis said, “The council has highlighted that overspends in Children’s Services are its biggest financial problem and that a large part of that is the rocketing charges being made by businesses who provide homes for looked after children. The council has a plan to increase the number of children looked after by the council itself which will not only save money but should provide better care in places closer to the children’s families. The plan doesn’t go nearly far enough but it is the only thing that the current Conservative administration is doing to address the massive increase in charges by commercial children’s home operators.
“So it is very disappointing to hear that the project is at risk of missing both its quality and financial objectives. It is taking months and in some cases years from the time that a suitable building, usually one already owned by the council, is identified and when it actually opens and children start to live there.”
If it is going to address the growing cost of looking after children and spend less on increasing the profits of commercial children’s homes the council needs to move much further and faster on this.