CASH strapped Dumfries and Galloway Council is spending £5.6m a year on private companies to look after children due to costs in the sector spiralling out of control.
The costs for a child placement had been set at the already-expensive £3500 per week by government agency Scotland Excel – yet many private providers have been hiking the prices considerably higher.
Another concern is that many children are being forced to live in residential care facilities or with foster parents outwith their home region.
This has led to calls from Dumfries and Galloway’s Labour Group for the council to open up its own care facilities.
Lochar Councillor Linda Dorward spoke at length about the situation at the social work committee on Tuesday.
She said: “We do believe we are coming to a crisis. If we’re not there, we’re at the cliff edge – and we’re about to fall off it in terms of this.
“We really need to look hard at what we’re doing.
“The concern is the unregulation of service provision. It’s not provided by local authorities, it’s provided by the private sector.”
Councillor Dorward insisted social work chiefs need to look at costings for local authority-run residential places, saying: “If we need to put children and young people into residential places, we should do it locally as opposed to across Scotland. That’s not beneficial for them or their families.”
Members were told a budget of £4.136m was set aside for residential placements, however it’s projected the final bill will be £5.566m – an overspend of £1.25m.
Stephen Morgan, the council’s interim social work chief officer, said: “Do we need more of our own in terms of residential care locally? The short answer is probably yes.
“But we need to do the detailed work.”
Mr Morgan admitted the council may have to go down the road of operating its own care facilities for children longer term.
He continued: “This is a horrible phrase I’m about to use, but the ‘childcare market’ in Scotland is saturated.
“If you are looking for a residential placement in any part of Scotland from any local authority right now, you are not likely to find one. And if you do, it’ll be extremely expensive because it really is a seller’s market.
“I use those words with hesitancy, but with deliberancy as well because it is about market forces.
“Scotland Excel sets fees of around £3500 per week, however the average is significantly higher than that.