St Helens Council has pledged to invest £5.5m a year in its Children’s Services, which will include the employment of over 40 new social work professionals.
This significant investment is in response to a recognised need to improve children’s services, and the borough’s rates of children in care being among the highest in the country.
Cabinet agreed in October 2018 to an additional commitment of £2m per year to children’s services, and subsequently a further £3.5m at a meeting on 20 February 2019.
The annual £5.5 investment will provide better support to foster families in St Helens as well as a greater recruitment of foster placements, an increase in the number of social workers to keep case loads manageable, and an improvement in care leaver support.
A recent report to Cabinet identified the borough’s high rates of children in care, and examined the findings of a series of assessments over the last six months, showing that the council has an urgent need to improve the service.
There are over 480 children currently in care in St Helens, significantly above what would be expected if at the national average of 230. In 2018/19, the council received over 4,500 calls reporting concerns about a child in St Helens, which is over 12 per day on average. There are also over 1,800 local children subject to open children’s services cases – roughly equivalent to almost two children in every school class in the borough.
Council Leader Derek Long, said: “When I was appointed Leader in April last year, it became apparent that improvements needed to be made to children’s services.
“A focused visit by Ofsted in July 2018 also confirmed the extent of the challenges, and following this I instructed officers to develop a robust action plan and to establish an Improvement Board to meet these challenges, drive forward good practice and ultimately improve outcomes for local children.
“I am personally committed to improving the safety of children in the borough and to ensuring the right resources are put in place to enable this.”
Linda Clegg, Chair of the St Helens Children’s Improvement Board and Department for Education Specialist Advisor, said: “As Chair of the St Helens Improvement Board, I welcome this decision and it is positive that St Helens Council has committed to this additional investment into children’s services given the current challenges that the council is addressing.
“The additional investment into front line social work posts will further support improving outcomes for children and families in St Helens.”
The need to recruit new social workers is a priority for the council given the considerable demands being placed on the service. The need to recruit new social workers comes shortly after Liverpool Council made an £8m commitment to children’s services and announced their need to recruit 160 new staff.
Nationally, the number of children subject to a Child Protection Enquiry has risen by 151 per cent over recent years and the number in care has risen from 64,400 in 2010 to over 70,000 today.
Councillor Long added: “There has been a huge rise nationally in the numbers in care and St Helens is no different. Issues such as neglect, domestic violence and exploitation are issues that are causing the council to intervene – it is not the council that harms children, but it is the council that must respond.
“This means investing more money in the service even at a time when our budget is under considerable pressure. The Local Government Association has calculated that nationally children’s services are underfunded by £2 billion. But despite the financial pressure children are a priority in St Helens.”