Work to keep children out of care in Rotherham has had a successful start but the council has seen fewer cash savings than originally anticipated because costs for those who do need placements have risen.
The council’s social care spending on children is around £5m over budget, caused by a spike in numbers of ‘looked after children’ in their care.
It introduced a new policy aimed at preventing children from going into care where possible, through early intervention measures to prevent problems at home escalating, and to providing the type of support for those in care which allows – where possible – for them to be placed into foster care later.
That has seen numbers fall from a high of 667 to 622 – ahead of the authority’s own projection which assumed it would have 630 children in its care by the end of September.
However, deputy leader Gordon Watson told councillors: “Demand management is doing exactly what we thought it would do. We are definitely doing something right.
“The slight downside is because of the demand elsewhere, the cost of placements are going in the other direction.
“We are not taking huge sums of money out of the system. That is the national picture. Numbers are coming down but the money is not quite following it at this stage.”
One area where the council hopes to make progress is recruiting more of its own social workers as an alternative to using more expensive carers, employed via agencies.
It is hoping to exploit social media to reach more potential candidates and a new website had 1000 per cent more hits than its predecessor in its first week.
Changes are also being made to the process of signing up as foster carers, described by the council’s own staff as an “onerous” process which has previously taken six months.
That will now be reduced to four months, with better communication and feedback for those involved, with an acknowledgement those showing an interest in fostering should receive improved customer service from the authority.
The aim is to ensure people considering fostering as an option are aware the council’s service is a competitive option, providing high levels of support for both foster parents and children, as well as financial reward.