Council proposes 'higher risk' care strategy for vulnerable children

Neil Puffett
Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A council has warned that vulnerable children are likely to be placed at risk if plans to balance the books by adopting a "higher risk" care strategy are given the go-ahead.

Under plans being considered by Cambridgeshire County Council, the authority will aim to take fewer children into care. Picture: Morguefile
Under plans being considered by Cambridgeshire County Council, the authority will aim to take fewer children into care. Picture: Morguefile

Cambridgeshire County Council, which needs to make £41m savings in 2016/17 and more than £100m by 2020, said financial pressure means a smaller proportion of vulnerable people will have the cost of their care met by the council, while the amount spent on those in receipt of services will also fall.

As part of a raft of proposals aimed at shaving more than £4.5m from the local authority's children's services budget, the council intends to try to support children to remain with their families rather than take them into care.

The move is anticipated to reduce the bill for looked-after children by £1.43m, but a report by the council warns that the proposals are an "unprecedented risk".

"As we reduce the number of people who receive our specialist and intensive support, it follows that more risk will be held within communities and families," the report states.

"This will, in some cases, lead to people being less safe and poorer outcomes for vulnerable people."

The report adds that it is "inevitable" that as services for children, families and adults reduce, there will be reduced management and support capacity.

"Some people will either have to wait longer for a service or will receive no service at all," it states.

"In some cases, we will reduce support for people who use our services, regardless of whether or not we can achieve greater independence.

"Our workforce will need to operate within the context of this higher level of risk and will need very different skills from now."

In addition to cutting spending on children in care, which currently number around 560 in the county, the council also plans to shave £1.02m from the 2016/17 budget through reductions to early help services for children and young people, a decision that has already been rubber-stamped.

Other proposed cuts include removing subsidies for educational transport for over-16s (saving £770,000), removing the council's funding for speech and language therapy for young children (saving £120,000), and further reducing funding for children's centres (saving £250,000 next year).

Meanwhile a reduction in advice and support that is available to early years settings and schools to the statutory minimum will save £500,000, and reduced spending on agency social work staff will save £502,000.

Cambridgeshire County Council's executive director for children, families and adults, Adrian Loades, said: "The combination of reduced government funding and increased demand on our services mean we have had to make some extremely difficult and unpalatable decisions, recognising that they will have a direct impact on vulnerable people, families and communities.

"The sheer scale of the savings required quite simply means that we will not be able to provide services to the level we have been able to in the past.

"However, our foremost priority has always been to protect the most vulnerable in society and we will continue to do that to the best of our ability.

"Officers and members will be working hard within the coming weeks and months to look further at these proposals and ensure that the necessary savings are achieved with the minimum impact on services, but unfortunately, some will inevitably be reduced or discontinued."

Final proposals will not be rubber-stamped until early next year.

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