By Leigh Boobyer – Local Democracy Reporter

Children’s services in Gloucestershire is expected to cost £3million more than the county council thought it would five months ago – totalling a predicted overspend of £9million.

This is despite Gloucestershire County Council putting an extra £16m into this year’s budget to pay for the children’s services department.

The rise in costs is caused by out-of-county placements and safeguarding staff budgets, a council document said.

At a children’s scrutiny meeting at the county council in September, councillors were told the authority expected to overspend £6, 140, 000 on the service by March next year.

But next week the Children and Families Overview and Scrutiny committee will be updated with the new overspend figure of £9m.

The council report said £6.23m will be spent on the out-of-county placements.

At the end of August, the number of children in care had risen to 698 from 549 at the end of March 2016, the report said.

The document said: “The ongoing rise in children coming into care continues to cause significant pressures on children’s services and in particular against the external placement and safeguarding staff budgets resulting in the over-spend.”

Last year, the service had an overall turnover rate of 17.5 per cent. However, that doesn’t include the churn that happens within the posts covered by agency staff where turnover is higher.

According to a council document, even though staffing budgets received £4m investment so far this year, recruiting and retaining social workers will cost £2.1m more than budgeted.

A separate document to be handed to the committee also states the department’s “biggest challenge” is staffing.

As of September 1 there was a 35 per cent vacancy rate and 160 agency staff – but half of those workers have been employed for less than four months.

The report said: “We need to be in a position where Gloucestershire is the employer of choice in the region.

“We know that we are not yet providing a good enough service to children
and their families and we have ongoing challenges in recruiting staff which
impacts on our improvement journey.”

The department plans to over-recruit in-house frontline staff and offer additional student placement. The council is paying for seven employees to train as social workers through the Open University.

The authority’s children’s services is currently rated inadequate by watchdog Ofsted.

A recent inspection by Ofsted inspectors found the improvements were “accelerating” but child protection procedures were “not always followed”.

Gloucestershire County Council’s Children and Families Overview and Scrutiny Committee will debate the issue on November 22, from 10am.

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