PROPERTIES which will be turned into children’s homes are being identified by council bosses - after the local authority admitted increasing numbers and placement costs are impacting the service it provides.

A report, discussed by councillors on Tuesday, revealed the procurement and development of new council-owned children’s homes will be ‘accelerated’.

A total of £7m was set aside in the 2023/24 budget - which will be spent on ‘strengthening and improving’ Barnsley’s children’s services - while a further £9.2m package was agreed in April due to rising caseloads and placement fees.

The cost for looked-after children being cared for out of the borough - on average - stands at more than £3,500 per week, and a report stated the authority could save around £300,000 annually.

“Properties are already being identified to expand Barnsley’s own provision, including 16-plus accommodation and specialist residential care,” the report said.

“Our children in care and care leavers have recently responded to an online survey sharing their experience of living in care - results will be shared this month and will help to shape services in the future.

“A short-term accommodation review is underway so that partners can be co-located better with a longer-term plan.

“A financial pressure of £7.2m is forecast against the looked-after children placement budget for the year - this compares unfavourably to the £5.8m previously highlighted.

“This pressure reflects an increased number of placements in foster and residential care as well as the continued competitive pressures in the children’s care home provider market.

“The council continues to face challenges - increasing numbers and costs - in placing young children, especially those with complex or multiple needs.”

In March, the council was told by education watchdog Ofsted that it needs to improve its service for youngsters leaving care, stating it had been weakened by ‘workforce challenges and workload pressures’.

Members of the assessment team have now seen their average caseload reduced by 54 per cent, from 37 in June 2022, to 17 in March 2023, according to the report.

“Caseload levels still fluctuate due to demand, and social care teams still find it difficult to recruit experienced social workers,” it added.

“However, these have reduced.

“To address it, we set a clear expectation of maximum caseloads.

“We know that there is still more work to do in this area, as our social care teams still struggle with recruitment and demand has increased.

“We are showing positive changes with 15 agency workers transferring to permanent posts across the service.

“Our retention rates of case-holding social workers have improved and absence levels have reduced or maintained across the service.

“While progress has been made and progress is evident, more time is needed for us to see this translate into consistently good outcomes for children.”