More Brighton and Hove children are being taken into care as social workers respond to public concern after the Baby P scandal.
And Brighton and Hove City Council is spending about £3 million more than it budgeted as a result – and despite the pressure to keep costs down.
The council said that the trend was in line with the national picture as social workers were less willing to leave children in the care of their family.
The trend follows the case of Baby P – Peter Connelly – who died three years ago, although his identity was revealed only a year ago.
It is pushing the council over budget on a number of fronts as councillors and officers try to deal with funding cuts imposed by the new Conservative and Lib Dem coalition government.
The council is paying more than expected in court and legal fees as the number of care proceedings being brought has risen significantly.
It had even allowed extra funding in anticipation of the trend – but not enough.
Budget papers prepared for the council cabinet meeting on Thursday (22 July) say that the overspend in legal fees is forecast to top £400,000.
The overspend is “despite significant additional funding put into this area at budget setting time”.
The budget papers blame changes in the law and the higher court fees being charged by the Ministry of Justice.
The cabinet papers add: “The significant increase in the number of children being referred for care proceedings in line with national trends is adding further to budget pressures in this area.
“The children’s social work teams continue to be under pressure because of their statutory duties around child protection and looked after children’s duties.
“There also continues to be a churn in frontline social workers leaving from the most pressurised teams, ie, the children’s social work front doors.
“As a result of both of these factors the majority of the projected overspend within this area of £455,000 is mainly due to agency social work staff.”
The council hopes that a bursary scheme will help it to recruit and retain enough newly qualified social workers from September to cut the bill for agency staff.
On top of the £800,000 in legal fees and for agency social workers, the council is also paying out more than £2 million extra in this area, mostly to foster carers and children’s homes.
The cabinet papers say: “The number of placements, and level of expenditure, relates directly to the significant and sustained level of referrals to social care (at times up to 61 per cent) following the Baby P case.
“This has resulted in a 33 per cent increase in the number of children with a child protection plan and a 12 per cent increase in the number of looked after children from July 2009 and May 2010.
“The main areas of overspend in this area relate to independent foster agency placements of £1.296 million and residential placements of £621,000.”
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