High rate of looked-after children in Hartlepool posing difficulties for council chiefs

A high rate of looked after children and continuing budget cuts have been highlighted as key challenges for the council’s children’s services team moving forward.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 12 June, 2019, 20:30
Hartlepool Civic Centre

However staff within Hartlepool Borough Council children’s services department were praised for their ‘effort and commitment’ to achieve high standards in several areas over recent years.

This included Hartlepool Borough Council winning the Children’s Services of the Year Award at the Local Government Chronicle Awards in March this year.

Members of Hartlepool Borough Council's children's social services department

It came as Sally Robinson, director of children and joint commissioning services on the council, gave a presentation to the children’s services committee outlining the successes and challenges they face.

She said the ‘very high’ number of looked after children provided one of the main challenges, with the council having one of the highest rates in the country.

She said: “We have 294 looked after children, for about the last nine months or so that number has been reasonably static around the 285-295 mark.

“That is very high, we have very high numbers of children looked after in Hartlepool, in the last four years we’ve seen a 71% increase in the numbers from 2015, and that’s a reflection of the vulnerability and need.

“We have increasing levels of poverty, vulnerability and need for children in Hartlepool and partly that leads to our very high numbers of looked after children.

“A lot of the drivers of demand come from adult related issues, things such as domestic abuse, adult substance misuse, it really is a driver of demand that increases the vulnerability of children.”

Getting all Hartlepool schools rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’

Another future aim for the department is ensuring 100% of schools in Hartlepool are rated good or outstanding by Ofsted, with the rate currently 87%.

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However council officers noted they continued to face financial challenges after suffering nine consecutive years of funding cuts.

Ms Robinson said: “Children’s services nationally and locally is underfunded and that is leading to budget pressures, we’ve reported to committee for the last four years a budget outturn overspend in children’s services.

“Year on year we’re seeing the impact of budget cuts and that has impacted on our ability to have a responsive early help service.”

However officers praised the department for the rate of children offered first choice school admissions, the workrate of staff and the quality of children’s homes in the town.

Children’s social care services in Hartlepool were also rated ‘good’ by Ofsted inspectors last summer.

Ms Robinson said: “Our children’s homes, the local authority children’s services are rated as good, however we do have some challenges surrounding special educational needs and disabilities.

“It would be remiss not to point out we won Children’s Services of the Year a little bit earlier this year.

“We are a good performing local authority across a range of performance indicators, in relation to the stability of placements of children’s care, we have low numbers of first time entrants to our criminal justice system.

“The culture of the department, the reason why we do reasonably well, is because the leadership team and everybody throughout the whole organisation is absolutely focused on what we are paid to do, what our day job is, which is to support children and young people in Hartlepool and promote improved outcomes for them.”

Coun Brenda Harrison had praise for staff in the department for the levels of work they carry out.

She said: “It’s quite incredible when you think of what is involved in children’s services, just to echo one of the things and that is the commitment of the staff in the team that works within children’s services, and I’m sure that was reflected in the prestigious award you earned earlier this year.”