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 Derbyshire council extends consultation on £1.6m savings plan for two disabled children centres to avoid closures

 Derbyshire council extends consultation on £1.6m savings plan for two disabled children centres to avoid closures.

The Conservative-led council which has already agreed to progress with a number of other saving plans to balance a forecast budget shortfall of nearly £40m for the 2024-25 financial year had been due to decide upon proposed changes at its Getaway and Outback children’s centres as an alternative to closing them down.

However, Council Leader, Cllr Barry Lewis, told a Cabinet meeting, at County Hall, in Matlock, on April 11, that consideration of the ‘Re-purposing of The Getaway and Outback Provision’ had been withdrawn from the current agenda and the council confirmed this was because a public consultation has been extended.

A council spokesperson said: “A decision has been taken to run the consultation over a longer period of time and therefore the paper was no longer required to be presented at yesterday’s Cabinet.

“We welcome all feedback, and want to ensure we give opportunities for all expressed views to be included and represented before any final decisions are taken.”

The council is considering remodelling The Getaway and The Outback services to reduce external placement expenditure for children with complex disabilities from April 2024 onwards.

This has been described by the council as an alternative plan to closing these two services for children with disabilities which was previously proposed due to the council’s critical financial position.

The recommended remodelling plan could save the authority £1,658,943 over two years, according to the council.

It could see The Getaway, at Ilkeston – which provides residential short breaks or care to disabled children – converted from a Short Break children’s home to a longer-term home for Derbyshire children providing full time care for three children aged between 7-17 years.

However, one bed will continue to be available at the Outstanding Ofsted-rated Getaway for Short Break care for children who are at high risk and require a high level of care to meet their complex needs.

The needs of the children receiving overnight Short Break care are being re-evaluated by the council and those who still need overnight Short Break care may be assessed under proposals for placements at The Willows, at Chinley, in the High Peak, and Spire Lodge, in Chesterfield, with support from The Outback.

Remodelling plans for The Outback, at Chesterfield – which supports disabled children in their own homes and helps with outreach support to prevent children going into care. – hope to achieve ‘cost avoidance’ with even more work to be aimed at preventing children going into full-time care, according to the council.

The Children with Disabilities Social Work Service has also been looking at alternative operations to accommodate these proposed changes and it is hoped it would help by taking on the completion of parenting assessments, family time and some support for children who are not in any formal safeguarding process.

Under the remodelling plans, alternate one-to-one support for children and young people may be provided through direct payment to families who can purchase services from elsewhere in the community.

The council stated its remodelling plan would allow it to maintain the current budget for the running of The Getaway with it operating as a full-time residential home with a year-on-year cost avoidance of about £1.376m by not having to pay the external child placement costs of £1.376,298 per year which are expected to increase.

Further savings will be expected with The Getaway transporting young people to and from education totalling £117,201 per year which is currently spent by Special Educational Needs Department transport.

The council’s report also stated there would be no further need to pay an additional sleeping-in allowance to staff at a cost of about £12,000 per year under the recommended remodelling.

In addition, the council stated that ‘repurposing’ The Outback would mean the ‘realignment’ of current staffing and activities which would provide an annual saving of about £153,444.

The remodelling of The Getaway and The Outback, according to the council, would still leave a £240,000 shortfall on its original targeted savings of £1,898,000 over two years but other additional options were being considered including establishing a fourth bed at The Getaway for a child in a high-cost external placement and the possible disestablishment or transferring of posts.

The original two-week public consultation which ended on March 24 revealed a lot of scepticism or disagreement with the possible closure of The Getaway and The Outback with concerns about service reductions, the strain on families, risks of more crisis situations, higher costs for councils, and the impact on families if The Outback services were reduced or stopped.

Many were concerned how children would struggle to adapt to any changes but the council’s report states the council would look to mitigate against concerns but given the authority’s financial difficulties it would still have to prioritise its statutory responsibilities.

One member of the public stated in the consultation: “I think the proposed service provision needs to be identified and families reassured that they will still receive a comparable level of service and care.”

Another felt it was ‘disgusting’ that the council was considering trying to save money by cutting ‘vital services’ that support disabled children and their parents.

Cllr Julie Patten, Cabinet member for Children and Families, has previously stated that more children are needing support and demands are increasing so local authorities need to find more efficient methods.

Derbyshire County Council explained many councils rely on commissioned services from the private sector to meet the needs of ‘this cohort of children’ but it has chosen to provide the services internally for many years.

Like many local authorities, the council has blamed its financial struggles on reduced Government funding, the financial impact from the Covid-19 pandemic, high inflation rates, rising costs, the cost of living crisis, and a growing demand on services and that meeting the rising costs faced by its children’s services is one of its biggest concerns.

The council’s report, concerning the centres, has recommended the Cabinet supports the proposal to re-purpose The Getaway and The Outback as an alternative to closure so the authority can make critical financial savings.

A council officer stated in the same report: “Considering the critical financial position of the council the initial indicator was that closure of these services was an opportunity to achieve substantial savings notwithstanding the high level of need that exists for children with a disability.

“However, detailed interrogation of other options has enabled a different and more palatable plan to be proposed to re-purpose these services to impact on the current financial crisis and enable the preservation of the services for children who need them.

“In addition, the alternative enables the retention of a highly-skilled, compassionate workforce and avoidance of additional redundancy costs through the loss of the Derbyshire employees.”

A decision on the proposed ‘Re-purposing of The Getaway and Outback Provision’ is expected at a future Cabinet meeting following consideration of the extended public consultation.

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