Is there a "right number" of children to be in care?

A new children's partnership board has been formed to help protect the interests of Lancashire's young people
A new children's partnership board has been formed to help protect the interests of Lancashire's young people

There is no “optimum number” of children to be in council care, a group of councillors has been told.

Lancashire County Council’s head of policy and commissioning, Dave Carr, made the comments as the authority’s children’s services scrutiny committee was briefed about a new partnership board to protect the interests of young people in the county.

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One of the challenges which the board has set for itself is to “ensure the right number of children are in the care of the Council”.

Questioned on whether that ambition could have been better worded, Mr. Carr revealed that the phrase had been very deliberately crafted.

“There isn’t an optimum number of children [to be] in care. To say that we want more children in care isn’t the right thing, but to say that we want fewer isn’t necessarily the right thing either – because it depends on the needs of that child.

“So we landed on ensuring the ‘right’ number – whatever the right number is.

“We sometimes have a tendency to think we’ll pick young people up, place them in care and everything will be okay. But for some young people, being in care isn’t the best place for them.

“Wherever possible, if we can put arrangements in place safely and appropriately to keep a child in a family setting, that is normally [what] we would want,” Mr. Carr explained.

The meeting heard that the new county-wide children’s partnership board aims to ensure children are protected from harm, achieve their potential and have a say in shaping the services which cater for them. There will be a particular focus on early intervention.

The board will comprise representatives from schools, the police, district councils and public health organisations, amongst others.

The new arrangements, which exclude the standalone council areas of Blackpool and Blackburn with Darwen, will replace a previous board which was suspended in 2017, pending discussions about how agencies with a responsibility for children should work together in future. However, the continuation of some of the local children’s partnership boards formed under the old system is now in doubt.

While the new county-wide board has made no recommendation about the futures of the local groups, the majority of them – those covering Preston, Chorley, South Ribble & West Lancashire and Burnley & Pendle – have stopped meeting, the committee heard.

The two other local boards – in Fylde, Lancaster & Wyre and Hyndburn, Rossendale & Ribble Valley – remain active.

Committee chair, County Cllr Andrea Kay, praised the work done by the local board in her Cleveleys East division.

But Burnley Council’s head of policy, Rob Dobson, told members that the various other multi-agency arrangements which are already in place may make more meetings at a local level unnecessary.

“It may be the same partners sitting around the table…and you don’t want your officers spending time in talking shops,” Mr. Dobson said.

He added that a children’s co-ordinator role in the borough, jointly-funded with the county council, was having an impact on the ground by bringing frontline services together.

“That post-holder makes a massive difference to what we’re able to achieve at a local level. We’ve done far more around child sexual exploitation because of that post.

“That [individual has] has enabled us to join up local services [and has] attracted external funding [to Burnley],” Mr. Dobson added.