Drive to reduce children in care in Leeds

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Leeds children’s service bosses are hoping to slash the city’s numbers of children in care this year, whilst at the same time saving almost £6m from the annual care budget.

The city currently has 1,355 cared-for children.

Under its plans for 2014, the council’s children’s services department will be expanding its direct work with troubled families, with the aim of returning children to their own networks and communities “safely and appropriately”.

Work over the past year has already seen the number of looked after children fall by 76, or 5.3 per cent, bucking a national trend upwards and delivering significant savings.

Nigel Richardson, the city’s director of children’s services, explained that 90 per cent of cared-for children come from families struggling with adversity, in situations which can ultimately be worked through. He said 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 stressed. “Once they come up with their own plan, the social worker will decide if that plan is safe. It’s [about] putting those support networks in.”

He added the child would “absolutely” remain the focus of the work. “It’s why we exist,” he said. “The voice of the child is essential to what we do.”

It is hoped the new approach will help save almost £6m in the actual costs of care, which include out-of-city residential and fostering placements. The savings will be re-invested, especially into preventative and group work with immediate and extended families.

The children’s services department is losing £22m of its overall budget next year.

But Mr Richardson said that despite pressures, the work with cared-for children had managed to “turn the curve” recently.

“We would like to see that curve continue to drop,” he said “But we consciously haven’t set a [numbers] target. If we have to look after children, we will look after children.”

Councillor Judith Blake, the council’s children’s services portfolio holder, said: “The outcomes for young people are so much enhanced if we can find a way that they stay safely with their families.”

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