CHILDREN under state care are being homed “further away” than the council “would want” owing to service pressures exerted on the authority by coronavirus.

Buckinghamshire Council noted a reduced number of “available placement” in the county while reviewing its Budget Monitoring Report for the financial year 2020/21, on Tuesday (July 28).

During the cabinet meeting councillor Mark Shaw, cabinet member for Children’s Services said the council had placed children beyond where it “would want to” due to lack of available care facilities.

His remark came up while commenting on a forecast Revenue overspend by Children’s Services of £6.1 million for 2020/21, which council leader Martin Tett suspected could be “even higher by the end of the year”.

Children’s Services typically covers education and child protection.

Read more: Backlash as top politician embroiled in ‘Nazi’ mural Twitter row

Cllr Shaw pointed to three areas of pressure for Children’s Services:

  • Over-18s
  • Client costs
  • Special Guardianship Orders

“Client costs have been very expensive and have been the main area of expenditure to be honest because the amount of available placement has decreased and is far more difficult to come by,” said Cllr Shaw.

“So, both the cost itself… and we’ve at times been having to place people… children further away than we would want to because of the availability of those care facilities.”

A single child in full-time care can cost between £300,000 and £1 million, according to Cllr Tett.

Buckinghamshire Council did not provide an answer when asked by how much care facility placements had decreased and from what date.

When asked what the normal distance a child might be placed, how much further away are they being placed, and the ramifications, the council said: “It is not possible or helpful to generalise on what is the ‘best distance’ from home to place a child or young person.

“As a rule, the service makes all efforts to keep children in care as close to their local community as possible. However, for some young people this is not the right thing to do and is not in their best interests.”

It added, in “some situations”, where there are complex needs, “the most important factor is being able to meet those needs and not distance from home”.

Read more: Council could see ‘spike’ in abuse cases during lockdown when schools reopen

When asked how many children have been placed “further away” than the council “would want to” under Covid compared to more acceptable distances, the council did not give a figure.

“Placing children in care is a last resort and in the vast majority of cases will involve the Children and Families Court who will provide scrutiny of the local authority care plan.

“Before considering placing a child or young person in care, all other support options are considered including providing additional support for families,” it said.

Cllr Shaw said extra costs also meant the council was unable to move Over-18s out into “non-cared for” or “normal” accommodation due to “guidance from government under lockdown”.

He added the service is working with Housing to deal with the matter in “a very different way to what we traditionally have done in the past”.