Dorset director of children's services resigns

Dorset director of children's services resigns

Published by Maria Greenwood at 7:33am 4th December 2019.

Sarah Parker’s resignation as executive director of Dorset children’s services was announced eight hours after she was questioned by councillors about rising numbers of children in care and the cost of that.

Councillors on the audit and governance committee asked her why numbers in care had increased – and on what basis next year’s budget was being prepared.

Children’s services are projected to currently be more than £8.5million short of the budget for looked after children at the end of the year –  which opposition councillors says is only a shortfall because the budget was set at unrealistically low levels, taking little account that the service is partially demand led and the council has no option but to respond to need, especially when safety is concerned.

child reading

Council leader Cllr Spencer Flower has consistently said that the authority is prepared to use its £28.5million in reserves, an amount which had been set deliberately high because of the uncertainties of the first year of a new authority.

The council currently has 469 children in its care – a figure which is higher than comparable counties, but has been higher in the past. It has recently spiked after a period of decline.

Ms Parker’s Blueprint for Change exercise, to reorganise the county’s social services, aimed to stop children coming into care in the first place by offering parents and other carers more help and support at an early stage.

The exercise is in the final phase with the changes due to be brought into place in the New Year. Some changes, such as a new call centre, are already in place. A decision which Ms Parker said would save £300,000.

child eyes

The executive director said that buying care was expensive because there was a national shortage of places and operators could name their price – many thousands of pounds a week for some vulnerable children, many of them adolescences.

The county has no places for such children after the former Dorset County Council shut all but one of its homes.

She told the committee that the Blueprint for Change exercise would reduce numbers coming into care and make savings, but it was not an instant fix.

She also spoke about the unpredictability of demand saying that a family of seven children had just come into the care of the council because they were judged to be at risk and the authority had no option but to protect them. S

he said, sadly, the children could not be accommodated together.

“These unique and less frequent decision can have a significant effect on our budgets, literally overnight. ” 

By Trevor Bevins, Local Democracy Reporter