Victoria Leggett, Education correspondent
Thursday, January 3, 2013
The cost of sending Norfolk’s looked after children to expensive out-of-county residential homes is on course to be slashed by nearly £150,000 a week by 2014.
The county council has so far managed to reduce the number of young people being sent across the border – and sometimes hundreds of miles away – from 68 in March 2010 to 48 at the beginning of this month.
Ongoing work to create new long and short term placements within Norfolk – part of a £5.4m investment announced earlier this year – means that number should be down to 20 by March 2014.
In 2010, the county council was spending more than £210,000 a week on out-of-county residential placements. That should be down to just under £62,000 by 2014.
With places outside of Norfolk costing £3,091 compared with £1,955 at a recently opened centre in the county, it is set to lead to millions of pounds worth of savings.
Alison Thomas, county council cabinet member for children’s services, said creating more residential placements within Norfolk also saved the authority money in terms of social workers’ time and expenses because fewer were having to travel long distances to carry out assessments.
“That one off investment will save us revenue costs year on year. In some cases we’re saving £1,500 to £2,000 a week,” Mrs Thomas said.
The efforts have been welcomed by children’s charities who believe moving youngsters far from home is an additional upheaval for young people who are already having a difficult time.
Tom Rahilly, head of the NSPCC’s looked-after children programme, said: “Placing children in care homes many miles from their homes is often a potentially damaging move as they can become isolated and face an increased rise of abuse.
“While there is obviously pressure on the care system we must ensure there are sufficient resources available to give the right level of stability, support and protection to these children who need it more than most.
“We therefore very much welcome the efforts being made in Norfolk to keep children close to the areas they have grown up in, providing much needed stability in their lives.”
Mrs Thomas said there was also a risk of lower standards when sending children to care homes in other local authority areas where social workers could not keep as close an eye on them as they would like.
She said: “The local authorities don’t have ownership of the children. They are not their children. There is less accountability.”
The creation of extra in-county places has included the building of a new six-bed residential home, which opened last summer and was instantly full, and two further homes proving a total of eight beds which will be up and running by next summer.
The county council has also been working with other providers to “spot purchase” rooms on a short-term basis when they are needed to prevent pupils being sent out of county.
Mrs Thomas stressed those children already in placements outside of Norfolk would only be moved back when it was in their best interests.