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County council places more than a third of children in care outside Herts

More than a third of children in the county council's care are being accommodated outside of Hertfordshire.

Children’s services chiefs aim to place as many looked-after youngsters as possible within the county so they can maintain links with their families, friends and schools.

In recent years, the authority has been recruiting in-house foster carers and increasing the number of residential beds in the county – as well as developing an emergency foster carer scheme – to increase places available.

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But the latest data – presented to a meeting of the council’s children, young people and families cabinet panel on Thursday (November 9) – suggests fewer children remain in the county.

In March this year, 625 looked-after children were living in Hertfordshire, equivalent to 63.9%. In March 2022, 694 youngsters – or 67.4% – were placed within the county.

At the meeting, Liberal Democrat Cllr Steve Jarvis said that in light of opening new capacity in Hertfordshire, the decline in the number of looked-after children living in the county was “disappointing”.

“We need to be thinking about why we’re going in the wrong way, despite taking action to go the right way,” he said.

Councillors were told that most children placed outside the county – 66% – were in authorities bordering Hertfordshire.

Some would be deliberately placed in secure criminal provision or in a ‘tier 4’ hospital setting for those who need mental health care as in-patients. Councillors were told around 20 were placed at a distance for their own safety.

Jo Fisher, HCC’s executive director for children’s services, told the cabinet panel: “We want Hertfordshire children to live within Hertfordshire for all the right reasons.

“It’s important to note that Hertfordshire is not alone in experiencing challenges around finding the right placements to meet children’s needs. There’s an acute shortage of residential placements that’s been acknowledged on a national level.”

Ms Fisher highlighted the drive to recruit more in-house foster carers but said not all of those were actually based in Hertfordshire.

She also referenced children who were placed with foster carers further away who intended to adopt them.

And she said there were “all sorts of child-focused decisions about why a child isn’t living in Hertfordshire”.

The data was reported as part of a review of children’s services’ performance against its strategic ambitions, which include meeting the needs of children within their community.

The report to the cabinet panel acknowledged that most local authorities were facing increasing challenges in placement location, availability and choice.

Councillors were told the council had an ambitious residential and fostering strategy and placed children externally only if there were no other options.

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