More than £15m spent by Northamptonshire County Council since April on out of county placements for looked after children

Image of child writing. Pixaby.
Image of child writing. Pixaby.

Northamptonshire County Council has spent more than £15m since the start of April placing children in care homes in other parts of the country.

The authority says there are currently 116 looked-after children and young people in care homes outside of Northamptonshire and 155 children are being cared for in county placements.

The cost since the start of this financial year of paying for the out-of-county placements has been £15,498,792.

A spokesman for the authority said: “It’s very common for looked-after children to be placed outside of the county.

“In 2016/17, just 25 per cent of children were cared for outside of the county, which is lower than other neighbouring authorities (31 per cent) and well below the national average of 40 per cent.”

Labour county councillor Danielle Stone said out-of-county placements was a national issue and the Government should put in a series of checks and balances to deal it.

She said: “We have an army of social workers driving up and down motorways which reduces the amount of face to face time they have with the children.

“The way the system has evolved has been really random and led by market pressures. Because of the lack of places and capacity the market can call its own price and I think it is outrageous. The thing that really offends me is that some companies are making big profits out of looked-after children.”

NCC, like most authorities with responsibilities for looking after children, uses a number of private children’s home providers to care for young people within its care.

The children’s services department at NCC has been under the microscope in the past week following a damning verdict by watchdog Ofsted which, among several failings, revealed that 267 children do not have an allocated social worker. A children’s commissioner is expected to be in place soon to take over the running of the department.

Senior officials at the council, including two Government appointed commissioners, are currently trying to come up with ways to save more than £50m before the end of this financial year.

A transformation plan put before the authority’s cabinet last week (Nov13) indicated that the authority is looking to reduce the number of children it looks after.

In 2013, when the authority was placed into the special measures category by Ofsted it had 782 children in its care. Today that figure has risen to 1,096 children.

The transformation report says: “There are also significant opportunities to safely reduce the number of children in care and how we carefully step down through to permanency will be important as a better solution for the young person that also makes provision more sustainable.

“Prevention has to be a fundamental part of how we reorganise and realign ourselves so that there is a greater focus and capacity put in to the Edge of Care Strategy and keeping children at home. Public Health plays an important role in reducing demand in the medium to longer term but it can also reduce demand in the short term through effective strategies that will form part of the prevention programme. “