Big fall in numbers of Leeds children in care

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THE number of cared-for children in Leeds has dropped by almost 30 per cent.

The city currently has 1,299 children in local authority care, down from a high of 1,800 just a few years ago.

The figures were revealed at a meeting of Leeds city council’s cabinet, where children’s services portfolio holder councillor Judith Blake said recent strategy changes had helped bring about a “significant drop from when we started this work”.

She told colleagues that the city has 176 less children in local authority care compared to just 12 months ago.

The YEP reported earlier this year that department bosses were hoping to slash the city’s numbers of youngsters in care, whilst at the same time saving almost £6m from the annual care budget. This was after Leeds council’s children’s services department lost £22m of its overall budget this year as part of wide-ranging central Government cuts.

Nigel Richardson, the council’s director of children’s services, said there had actually been a move AWAY from numbers and targets for targets’ sake, but this had helped the city to “turn the curve”. “The focus has been on ‘right child, right place and right time’,” he said.

Previous research has shown that 90 per cent of cared-for children come from families struggling with adversity, in situations which can ultimately be worked through.

Key to the new model of working have been the concepts of “kinship care” and “family group conferencing”, which have seen the department expanding its direct work with troubled families, with the aim of returning children to their own networks and communities “safely and appropriately”.

Mr Richardson previously told the YEP that a major focus would be put on “helping families to find their own solutions” but this does not mean the council removing or distancing itself.

“We are not saying to families ‘sort out your own problems’,” he said. “It’s [about] putting those support networks in. But we consciously haven’t set a [numbers] target. If we have to look after children, we will look after children.”

Responding to the numbers, Leeds city council leader Keith Wakefield said: “It’s a fantastic achievement to see the drop in figures. Not too long ago it was as high as 1,800.”

The meeting was also told there had been real progress in recent months in recruiting new foster carers, who remain “really important” in the wider network of services for vulnerable children.

Forty-four new carers have joined the Leeds council ranks, and 38 have moved over from the private sector into the local authority’s cohort.

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