The rocketing number of referrals to Doncaster Council’s children’s services department have left senior officers with a £2.6m overspend, at a time when the authority is facing £30m cuts under Westminster austerity measures.
Currently there are almost 500 children in council care, a record number, and managers said much of the demand was a result of a protracted period of “chaos” which left child protection in the borough in disarray.
Just two years ago, the department was at the centre of a row which led to the Government taking over at Doncaster. But last week Ofsted, which inspects services for children, issued a “satisfactory” verdict on its work.
The department’s head, Chris Pratt, who was drafted in to turn its fortunes around, said he was happy inspectors recognised how hard his staff had worked, but said none of them would be satisfied with the Ofsted mark.
Doncaster children’s services hit the headlines after five child deaths, closely followed by the notorious attacks in Edlington, when two young brothers brutally attacked two other children.
Mr Pratt said his staff were now working to clear up the aftermath, and had discovered a series of cases which had essentially been ignored under the previous regime and were now being dealt with. He added: “The reason for the overspend is mainly the increasing numbers of children we now have to support.
“It is particularly about the amount of safeguarding activity that is now taking place.
“We have seen a tripling over the last two years of child protection investigations. That requires an increase in resources. Most authorities have seen an increase in the number of children being supported.
“But in Doncaster it is work that should have been done in the past that wasn’t being done.
“There hasn’t been a 300 per cent increase in demand, those investigations should have been happening two or three years ago.
“We are now doing things to protect children which should have been done before.”