External placements for looked-after children lead to budget overspends

More than one in five looked-after children are being placed in
care outside the boundaries of the responsible council.

A review of local authority children’s services by the Quality
Protects programme has found that 22 per cent of children are
placed externally, often inappropriately, potentially compromising
the safety of the child and the financial stability of the

Of the 32 council social services inspections analysed in
Delivering Quality Children’s Services, there was a clear link
between the amount councils spent on out-of-area placements and
their levels of overspend.

The nine councils that spent less than 9 per cent of their total
children’s budget on external placements all balanced the books,
whereas those which had 20 per cent of children in external
placements were on average 10 per cent overspent – one council
overspent by nearly 25 per cent.

The review team concludes that an over-reliance on “spot”
purchasing of external placements could see costs “spiral” out of
control, with many councils being caught in a situation of rising
demand and limited supply and being left with little scope for
developing preventive services.

The review, which analysed inspections of children’s services
carried out between August 2000 and July 2001, also highlights
concerns among social workers over the standard of child and
adolescent mental health services. They found CAMHS “unresponsive”,
particularly failing disabled children and young carers where
services were underdeveloped, and lacked co-ordination and

After analysing files, inspectors had concerns about child
protection issues in 12 per cent of cases, double the number from
the previous inspection programme.

Most councils were poor at meeting timescales for initial child
protection conference and one-monthly reviews, while 14 councils
had “serious deficiencies” in staff recruitment procedures for
safeguarding children.

The recruitment and retention of staff, particularly in London, was
having a major impact on the quality of services and the review
found that only a few councils had long-term plans in place to
tackle it.

“Delivering Quality Children’s Services” from www.doh.gov.uk/ssi/deliveringqualitycs.pdf



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