Number of children from Wigan who are in care outside of the borough still rising
Councillors were told in December that approximately 25 per cent of the local authority’s looked after children are currently in care outside of the borough. Wigan council has now reported that there was a “small increase” in out-of-borough placements during the first six months of the coronavirus crisis.
It comes after the council revealed it is projecting to spend £6.7m on out-of-borough placements in this financial year compared to the previous one.
Speaking at a scrutiny committee meeting this week, director of children’s services Colette Dutton explained why the figures are still rising.
She said: “There has been an increase because we’ve got an increase in looked after children now. We’ve gone up in numbers in line with the national picture.
“Nationally, the numbers of children that are becoming looked after is increasing. And we anticipate that that probably won’t slow down.
“We know that the pandemic has had an impact across the board and that’s likely to mean that when disadvantage increases, the numbers of looked after children sadly also increase.”
Wigan council has created a long-term plan to address the lack of placements for children in care within the local authority, known as a “sufficiency strategy”.
Investment will be needed to implement parts of the plan, such as recruiting new foster carers which the director said is going ‘pretty well’ at the moment.
Independent councillor Janet Brown asked when progress will be made.
The director of children’s services said: “Certainly within six months I would anticipate we would start to see some significant changes.”
She added: “We house more of our looked after children within Wigan than other Greater Manchester authorities do. So whilst where we’re not where we want to be, we know that we fare pretty well, but our ambition of course is to be better than pretty well.”
The council boss also warned that there is likely to be some “hidden harm” to children which is currently going undetected due to a reduction in referrals.
She said: “When children went back to school in September, nationally it was anticipated there would be a huge surge in referrals which actually didn’t play out – we didn’t see that at all.
“That’s not a good thing because of course what it means is, we know that there’ll be the same level of harm out there, in fact we know it’s probably exacerbated.
“What we’ve seen at the beginning of this year is quite a reduction in the number of referrals since January when the schools should have gone back but didn’t. So we’re concerned about that.”
While schools are closed to most students during the national lockdown, children of key workers and vulnerable children are allowed to attend.
Wigan council currently has the highest number of vulnerable children in school across Greater Manchester, according to the director of children’s services.
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