Peterborough ‘struggling to cope’ with care crisis as record numbers of children need support
Peterborough has higher than ever numbers of children in care, a new report has shown.
The Annual Corporate Parenting Committee Report addressed all areas of the Children in Care pledge and the Care Leaver’s Charter.
Figures up to the end of January 2019 show that there are now 380 children currently in care in Peterborough, the highest figure ever, and well above the ‘crisis’ figure of 350 that the council was alerted to more than five years ago.
Members of the city council’s Children & Education Scrutiny Committee heard the news from Wendi Ogle-Welbourn, executive director for people and communities, and Nicola Curley, assistant director for children’s services, at their meeting last week.
“While the figure of 380 Peterborough children currently in care is worrying enough, we are not alone in this crisis,” said Ms Curley.
“Nationally, and even among our statistical neighbours, numbers of children needing care services have increased dramatically.
“The figure for Peterborough is equivalent to 76 children and young people per 10,000 of our population, whereas the national average has increased to 87 per 10,000 of population.
“That said, we are struggling to cope, and as always we need more money to help monitor and alleviate the pressures put on children in care services in Peterborough.”
Over recent months, the city council, working in cooperation with the Children in Care Council, has created a Health Champion role in Cllr Kim Aitken.
Ms Ogle-Welbourn said: “Cllr Aitken has been working tirelessly with officers to create an updated version of the health passport for care leavers in response to feedback from our young people who have been in care and who want very much to be introduced and integrated back into everyday society.
“The Corporate Parenting Committee has monitored these pressures closely and taken action where some of the issues have had implications for the education of children in care.
“Ofsted carried out an inspection of Peterborough’s Children’s Services in June 2018, and despite the alarmingly high numbers of children our officers are having to cope with it was extremely pleasing when the inspectors noted that all of our care categories were rated ‘good’.
“That said, Ofsted did feel that some of our efforts to develop children’s personal education plans were taking far too long to implement and pointed out five areas requiring immediate improvement.
“They are: assessment of children who are missing or who are at risk from child sexual exploitation; the use of chronologies in underpinning children’s assessments; the number of return interviews that are successfully completed with children who have been missing from care; the quality of information provided to care leavers about their rights and entitlements, including how to access their health histories; and consistency of management oversight, including the recording of casework supervision across all social work teams.
“We’ve now developed an action plan to address these issues, and in partnership with The Adolescent & Children’s Trust (TACT) we are determining a placement budget for 2020.
“Nevertheless, we cannot hide from the fact that with numbers of children in care increasing all the time we are well past the point where the council called a crisis meeting five years ago.”
Cllr Graham Casey asked: “I remember when the council called that crisis five years back; are we now at the point where service providers are simply not able to cope with numbers as high as 380 Peterborough children in care?”
Ms Curley replied: “Additional staff have been recruited, but it’s a slow process as you can appreciate. Not only do we have to find the right people, we then have to encourage them to stay.
“They’re made aware of the high caseloads that they’ll have to undertake, but we’re monitoring these and they are currently within tolerance.”
Cllr Nicola Day also had concerns: “What about those children in care who have mental health issues? How are your staff dealing with them?”
Ms Curley said: “The numbers of children in care who have mental health issues is rising higher than ever before and so we have to monitor their needs very carefully indeed.
“I won’t say that this isn’t a challenge because it is, but like authorities up and down the country we’re doing our best to meet the needs of growing numbers of issues as we find them.”
The report was noted, and chairman Cllr Janet Goodwin thanked Ms Curley and her staff on behalf of members for the work that they’re doing under extremely difficult circumstances.