Doncaster mayor orders social services to speed up return of children in care outside of the borough
Social care bosses have been ordered to speed up bringing vulnerable children back to Doncaster placed outside of the borough because their needs cannot be met at home.
Elected mayor Ros Jones told bosses at Doncaster Children’s Services Trust (DCST) that more needed to be done to make more suitable accommodation available in the borough.
Out of Area placements (OOAs) are extremely costly to the council and DCST and children are placed into care elsewhere for a variety of reasons but mostly where suitable facilities are not available within the borough.
Currently, there are 118 Doncaster children who are in care settings in other parts of the country. It’s unclear how much it costs but the latest budget showed a £1.7 million overspend on OOAs alone.
Trust bosses said that seeking stable and appropriate placement is ‘difficult’ and that this is a ‘national and regional issue’
Providers of out of the area placements often have a ‘number of children to choose’ from which ‘impacts on the offer’.
The trust set out The Future Placement Strategy in 2019 which aims to locate and open new homes in Doncaster. It’s hoped it will help address some of the issues around placements.
But Mayor Jones said this wasn’t happening fast enough.
“It does appear that we are reacting too slowly in acquiring accommodation that would facilitate some of our children stopping within the borough,” she said.
“I want assurances on this because this has been in a capital programme for at least two years now, I want assurances that we’re moving at pace to enable our children, where appropriate, to stop within our authority.
“I think it’s better for a child to be in familiar surroundings, with the schools, where circumstances do not require them to be placed out of the area.
“I also need to see actions and assurances that face-to-face meetings are taking place, so that we see our children and if it’s having to be done by telephone, we need to know that the child is secure and safe out there.”
In documents seen by councillors, Paul Egan, performance and transformation manager at DCST, said specialist placements for children with additional needs, disabilities, or behaviour difficulties are ‘not easy to find’ and when they are acquired, ‘come at a high price’.
In response to the mayor, James Thomas, DCST chief executive, said they were ‘short listing two to three properties per week’ but properties in the private selling market were not always suitable.
“There will always be a number of children where a placement provision outside of Doncaster is in their best interest but certainly not at the level that we’re currently experiencing,” he said.
“What I can assure you of is an absolutely committed partnership response, including colleagues from the council and from St Leger Homes to accelerate the acquisition of tangible alternative accommodation.”