Last week, my colleague Councillor Carmen Appich wrote about the grim reports presented to the council’s Policy and Resources Committee on Thursday (1 December). These included forecasts of an overspend of more than £11 million this year and a £19 million funding gap in 2023-24.
They followed 12 years of Tory cuts wiping over £110 million off the council’s annual funding – or more than 50 per cent.
One area where the council is overspending this year to the tune of £1.12 million is the budget used for residential care for children with a statutory care order.
There is a legal requirement for the council to pay for this service – and the number of children moving into care has been growing, with almost one in three children in the UK now living in poverty.
There’s also a foster carer shortage leading to a boom in the private residential sector where costs have risen to £5,200 a week per child while foster carers themselves receive an average of £500 a week. No wonder private equity fund investors are taking advantage of this.
Despite the sterling work of our children’s social care service – rated “good” by Ofsted – we need to find a way to reduce the number of children going into care, as alongside the financial savings, we know that children thrive in a safe and nurturing family environment.
Before becoming a councillor, I was proud to play a part in developing the Labour government’s innovative Sure Start Children’s Centre programme – since decimated by Tory cuts.
Sure Start was introduced to support children under four and their families in disadvantaged areas, bringing together relevant services. Specialists in health, education and skills training, housing and social care worked with families in a one-stop children’s centre.
The scheme undoubtedly helped prevent many children going into the care system – preventative intervention rather than drastic and expensive action too late in the day.
Although our city has done its best to fund its children’s centres, many have closed due to cuts. The service is missed but the council’s children’s and families service has been developing plans to invest in a project called “family hubs”. These are effectively a new iteration of Sure Start, providing high-quality, joined-up, whole-family support.
Family hubs will deliver these services from conception, through a child’s early years until the age of 19 (or 25 for young people with special educational needs and disabilities).
This service will take time to bed in but we know investment now will make savings in the future by reducing residential care and other high-cost services – and more importantly provide a sound base to help families and children thrive rather than fail.
When making the difficult choices that we have been forced into over the budget, Labour councillors will be keen to invest-to-save in services like family hubs.
Anybody reading this who is thinking about becoming a foster carer and making a real difference can make further inquiries by following this link.
Councillor John Allcock is the joint leader of the Labour opposition on Brighton and Hove City Council.
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