MP SARAH Champion led a Parliamentary debate on the growing crisis in children’s care services, saying Rotherham was “on its knees” and “begging” for help.
The Rotherham MP (pictured) pointed out how scandal-hit Rotherham Borough Council could be a victim of its own recent improvement when it comes to fresh funding.
The Department for Education has indicated the majority of the £85 million of funding recently announced is likely to go to councils that Ofsted has deemed to be “requiring improvement”, while Rotherham Council, which has been awarded a “good” rating, is unlikely to benefit.
Ms Champion urged the Government to commit more funding as she spoke to the House of Commons on Tuesday to set out the challenges facing the town and outlined the Government’s failure to support Rotherham Borough Council in meeting the unique circumstances it faces as a result of gang-related child sexual exploitation.
Directing her questioning to the under-secretary of state for education, Nadhim Zahawi, Ms Champion said; “Will he please just tell me whether he is going to give us additional funding? We are on our knees in Rotherham and begging him for support.”
But Mr Zahawi said he could not “pre-empt a spending review from the dispatch box”.
Ms Champion pointed to the impact of Operation Stovewood — the National Crime Agency’s investigation into past child sexual exploitation in Rotherham — and told MPs that the inquiry had placed “unprecedented and unbudgeted” additional pressures on RMBC.
The borough council has estimated that the investigation currently created an additional financial burden of £4.3 million on the children’s service budget, which is estimated to rise to £7 million next year — yet only £500,000 per year of additional money has been forthcoming.
Ms Champion said: “In real terms, the funding for Rotherham’s budget since 2013-14 has been reduced by 74 per cent — a cut of more than £62 million.
“The Government have told councils such as Rotherham that they are making ‘significant additional resources’ available to support children’s social care, but that funding is primarily for innovation and does not redress the shortfall in core funding affecting so many local authorities.”
She said Rotherham had experienced a significant increase in demand, adding: “As of December 2018, the number of children on a child protection plan was 562, and the number of children in need was 1,447.”
The number of children in care in the town had risen from 407 in March, 2015, to 634 in December, 2018 — well above the national average increase.
“Rotherham has experienced the third highest increase in numbers in 2017-18 out of 152 local authorities in England,” Ms Champion added.
“Let us remember that the average annual cost of care, based on placement cost alone, for a looked-after child in Rotherham is £54,000 per child.”
Mr Zahawi said the Government was looking to understand better what made a difference in supporting children to stay with their families safely and prevented them from reaching crisis point.
Ms Champion won cross-party support from Conservative MP Tim Loughton and DUP politician Jim Shannon.
Mr Shannon said social services throughout the UK were “teetering on the brink of collapse”, and Ms Champion agreed that the country was “storing up a national disaster” if children were not properly supported.
Speaking after the debate, Ms Champion said she had been left “angry” by the minister’s response.
She tweeted: “I’ve held a debate where I laid bare the desperate need for additional funding for Rotherham children’s services only to have the Minister tell me he’s funding a project in Camden and North Yorkshire? If it didn’t matter so much it would be funny.”
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