Independent trust outlines plans to save £14m

An independent children's trust established to help improve failing services has set out plans to save £14m over the next four years following major overspends in its first 18 months.

Sandwell Children's Trust launched in April 2018, but overspent in its first year by £6.9m due to higher than expected demand, with the number of children in care rising from 778 to 901 by March this year.

Although the overspend was covered via a one-off use of reserves and a carry forward overspend of £1.4m, expenditure in the second year of operation has continued to exceed the budget.

In response, the trust has announced plans to cut spending over the next four years, by attempting to reduce the number of children coming into care and the cost of care placements.

"We have developed a medium-term financial strategy that seeks to invest in initiatives that offer opportunities to make savings at the same time as better meeting the needs of our children and young people," the trust's annual report for 2018/19 states.

This will include the establishment of a Family Drug and Alcohol Court, and provision of "in-house" training flats to promote independence for older children in care.

Meanwhile, the trust has begun to identify children who could be moved from high-cost residential placements to family placements over the long term, stating that this will ultimately make significant savings while increasing a child's opportunity to thrive in a family setting.

The trust, which is chaired by former Labour Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, also intends to develop a marketing strategy for foster carer recruitment, to boost numbers of "in-house" foster carers.

The aim is to make savings of £612,051 in the current financial year, £2.65m in 2020/21, £5.8m in 2021/22, and £7.3m in 2022/23.

The trust has been subject to nine separate Ofsted thematic visits and inspections since it launched, which have all noted progress being made but also that significant improvements are still needed.

The trust hopes services will improve to "requires improvement" by 2020 and "good" by 2022.

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