A FINANCIAL ‘recovery plan’ is being drawn up by council bosses who have been tasked with curbing children’s social care costs - after a report revealed an overspend of more than £16m had been uncovered.

‘Significant’ cost pressures were revealed, which were blamed on agency staff costs - which totalled £10m in a year - and increased placements in residential care settings.

The amount of ‘looked-after’ children in Barnsley care settings stood at 403 at the end of last summer, with the bill running into millions.

Of the 403, 82 youngsters were placed in external, non-council-run care homes, which resulted in costs dramatically climbing.

However, children leaving the council’s care system continued to cost money, with £680,000 spent on personal advisors whose role is to keep in touch and provide support thereafter.

Department for Education figures obtained by the Chronicle show there were 65 full-time equivalent (FTE) agency workers in children’s social care services in Barnsley at the same date - up from 23 the year before and the highest figure since records first began in 2017.

A council report said: “The above pressure is due to the competitive pressures in the care market, particularly for young people with complex needs.

“It is also evident that the change to regulated provision of a number of semi-independent homes has contributed to the increase in the weekly cost charged by providers.

“A key risk facing children’s social care is the continued increase in caseloads, the number of looked-after children and the increasing use of agency staff.

“A financial recovery plan has been developed by the executive director of children’s services in conjunction with the director of finance to address the key areas of cost pressures, with particular focus on reducing the number and cost of agency staff by March 31 and stemming the rise in placement costs.

“Going forward, any further increase in numbers beyond those anticipated will continue to exert pressure on the budget in future years.”

The council’s recently-approved budget for 2024/25 identified a ‘cost pressure’ of £14.9m in the directorate for the coming financial year, which was set aside to cover further anticipated rises on top of its £181m allocation for this financial year.

One of the ways which could reduce the reliance on agency staff is the newly-announced Barnsley Social Work Academy, which aims to deliver better outcomes - and staff retention - from student placements or those higher up the ladder.

Coun Trevor Cave, cabinet spokesperson for children’s services, added: “We’re incredibly proud of the work our social workers do and are committed to offering anyone who decides to join us a children’s social worker the support and development they need to succeed in their role and career.

“The academy will be committed to promoting staff wellbeing and resilience, supporting career development, and making sure that all staff are treated fairly, in an inclusive workplace which recognises and celebrates diversity.

“Academy students will be encouraged to recognise good practice and learn from feedback, improving and sustaining good outcomes for our children and families.

“Our ambition is to make Barnsley Council an employer of choice for children’s social workers.

“We’re an Ofsted-rated ‘good’ authority and are highly aspirational to deliver even better services, with children and their families at the centre of all that we do.

“This new initiative is an exciting development for social work in Barnsley, and we look forward to seeing the positive impact it will have on our community.”