‘£5 million needed to keep children safe’

Bucks County Council logo PNL-140309-174628001
Bucks County Council logo PNL-140309-174628001

A multi-million pound cash injection is needed to help keep vulnerable children safe, says a report to be considered next week.

Bucks County Council (BCC) cabinet is to discuss the findings of a group tasked with looking into the county’s failing children’s services.

Bucks childrens’ services were given an ‘inadequate’ rating last month, following an inspection in June.

BCC has just 70 days from the publication of the report to submit improvement plans for children’s safeguarding, and draft plans are now being drawn up.

The task and finish group which has now looked into resources in children’s services has put forward its recommendations, which will be considered by cabinet on Monday.

The report asks councillors to make safeguarding children one of the council’s top priorities and to release £4.8 million from reserves to add to the childrens’ services budget for this financial year.

Cabinet is also asked to approve the use of up to £1 million already within the approved budget to fund the immediate measures highlighted in the draft improvement plans.

The report says BCC had already recognised the pressure on children’s services, and set up the task and finish group to do an in-depth investigation in February, long before the Ofsted inspection.

Although this newspaper has seen the group’s recommendations, the report is being kept confidential.

In addition to the recommendations, it says there was a massive rise in demand for children’s services between 2012/13 and 2013/14, with a 70 per cent increase in referrals to children’s social care and a 14 per cent increase in young people coming into care.

At the same time BCC was having great difficulty in recruiting permanent, experienced social workers – a problem which still continues.

This means a significant number of posts are being covered by agency staff.

The report adds: “These two factors, combined with the continuing difficult financial context of the authority, resulted in very high workloads, discontinuity arising from the churn of the workforce, a lack of sufficient social work capacity and considerable strain on the available financial resources.”

In addition to the immediate cash injection, the report says existing financial plans for next year and beyond must be carefully considered to make sure enough resourses are provided to meet safeguarding requirements and Ofsted’s recommendations.