Councillors 'concerned' by number of looked after children placed outside Hertfordshire
Cllr Teresa Heritage stresses that the county council always does “the best” for children that come into its care and that it’s a similar picture elsewhere in the country
Opposition county councillors say they are “concerned” by the number of ‘looked after’ children being placed outside Hertfordshire.
Data requested by the LDRS shows that almost 40 per cent of children in care are being placed outside of the county – up to 429 miles away.
Liberal Democrat Cllr Mark Watkin – opposition spokesperson for children, young people and families on the county council – says the number of looked after children being cared for out of the county is “concerning”.
And he says the council must do more to recruit foster carers within the county.
“Taking into account the numbers who are placed just across the county borders or who are placed further afield for their own safety there is still a core of well over 100 who could be placed if there were carers available,” said Cllr Watkin.
“The county council must try even harder to recruit more carers from all backgrounds so that our young people can stay near their homes, friends and schools.
“They deserve nothing less.”
Labour spokesperson for children’s services Cllr Nigel Bell says there now needs to be an urgent report on the issue.
He points to both the emotional cost to the children and the financial cost to the council of placing so many children out of the county.
And – although he accepts the county council has already made attempts to increase the number of places available within the county – he says more needs to be done.
“The amount of children being placed out of the county is a big worry,” he said.
“We must do as much as we can to keep them within Hertfordshire – or as near as possible to the county. It is a major issue.
“It just shows that we need to build more facilities within the county. That is something which they are doing – but it’s still not enough.”
Meanwhile Conservative Cllr Teresa Heritage, who is the executive member for children, families and young people, accepts that people may be “horrified” by the numbers.
But she stresses that the county council always does “the best” for children that come into its care and that it’s a similar picture elsewhere in the country – with Hertfordshire “by no means the worst”.
She points to intensive work by social workers to prevent children coming into care or to reintegrate them within their families.
And she stresses that placing some children at a distance can be a “positive choice” – in order for them to access specialised care or to be removed from circumstances that are unsafe.
She also stresses that placements in neighbouring counties – such as London or Cambridgeshire – can mean children are closer to their home than if they were placed at the other side of the county.
But she accepts this is not always the case – and that sometimes the county just doesn’t have enough foster carers available.
She stresses that children are only allocated out-of-county placements that are judged to be ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’.
And, she says, if there are any concerns raised the social worker will carry out an immediate ‘welfare check’ – removing the child if needed.
She says that whenever a child is away from the county they are visited by their social worker at least once every four weeks.
And she says the authority also enables family contact and will support parents to get transport, where required.
“We try to ensure there is full support around the child,” she said.
Meanwhile, she says the county council has increased allowances available to foster carers and improved support, in a bid to boost recruitment. And in 2020, she says they recruited 56 new foster carers.
She also points to the £2.9million investment being made by the county council in building more residential care homes, to support children with complex care needs within the county.