A council is investing £1 million to recruit 20 extra social workers and reduce caseloads to 15 per social worker.
Dorset council approved the investment, branded as an ‘invest to save’ bid, this week. The council anticipated it would lead to £1.5 million in savings in 2018-19 largely due to an anticipated reduction in looked-after children numbers.
Steve Butler, cabinet member for children’s services in Dorset, said more social workers would mean more time spent with children and families, and help reduce the number of children in care.
The council’s children’s services requested the £1 million investment to recruit more social workers, who will work in areas across the service, as part of its bid to achieve savings to balance its budget during the council’s medium term financial plan update from 2018-19 to 2020-21.
“This additional resource would enable the reduction of caseloads to 1:15,” the proposal said.
“All the programmes (Family Partnership zones, recruitment of foster carers working with children on the edge of care, reduction of rereferral rate) will be made to work consistent with one another to bear down on a reducing number of [looked-after children] and achieving the consequential budget savings.”
Overspend in children’s services
Dorset council is currently predicting an overall overspend of £6.1 million in children’s services for 2017-18.
There are currently 445 children in care in Dorset, and the council does not believe it will reach a “best case” anticipated number of 400 by the end of 2017-18
It said the looked-after children cohort had seen lower cost placements replaced by higher cost ones with independent fostering and residential care providers, which was set to overspend the budget by £7.3 million in this financial year. The council had previously approved a £2.4 million contingency payment to try to mitigate pressures in children’s services.
A strategy to modernise fostering in Dorset has begun, with the aim of increasing in-house capacity by recruiting, retaining foster carers, but the council said it was unlikely that it would see the impact of this strategy until the end of 2017-18.
Further savings were anticipated in 2019-20 as the number of children in care continue to fall, the council said.
Butler added: “The more social workers we have, the more manageable our caseloads will become, meaning there’s more time to change children’s lives for the better.”