Budget deficit looms for Southend children’s services as number in care climbs

Southend children’s services is facing a £2.5million deficit following an increase in the numbers of vulnerable children in its care.

The service, which in 2019 Ofsted said “required improvement”, has struggled with funding cuts and increased demands.

At the time of its inspection, the council was looking after more than 300 vulnerable children through its fostering service.

The numbers have declined but the service is still under pressure and last month took in 27 unaccompanied asylum seeking youngsters.

The service has been given £2.5million special reserve fund from council coffers.

Councillor Laurie Burton, cabinet member for children and learning, said: “It is well documented that for several years now councils nationally have experienced increased demand for services with reduced funding which results in budget overspend in this area.

“The demand for support and care for vulnerable children continues to rise and become more complex. This is combined with a reduction in central government financial support.

“Court decisions, high-cost placements and changes in our approach to working with adolescents has impacted on budgets and, in line with other local authorities, there have been challenges in recruiting to permanent posts in social care.”

Southend Children’s services are undergoing an improvement programme following the Ofsted inspection.

A financial improvement programme is also underway, with £300,000 being saved in 2020/2021

Cllr Burton added: “This reduction in current spend pressures is partly because the council is currently responsible for 285 looked after children, compared to 330 which peaked at the end of 2019, and there are three fewer private voluntary and independent placements, which have a higher cost per child, compared to September 2020.

“Ultimately you cannot put a price on the safety and wellbeing of a child, and we have a duty of care to the children in our borough. We will continue to do all we can to run our services with our excellent staff, who provide that care and support to children who need it.”

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Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter