A senior Dorset councillor has criticised the county's early intervention strategy in children's services.

Cllr Toni Coombs said that three years into a five year programme she had not seen “a sea change” in the way young, vulnerable people were being cared for in the county.

“We are not servicing the most vulnerable in society, our children. We should be doing better for them.”

And she claimed that cuts to services being considered to make up for budget shortfalls could yet make the situation worse: “None of that will protect our children,” she said.

Her comment came during a discussion on what is claimed to be the success of early intervention strategies through the Family Partnership Zones, Family Focus, Targetted Youth and other teams with their collaborative working with schools, health, education and the police – using the idea of 'team around the family' with each case having a 'lead professional'.

The committee heard that while the number of children under the care of social services had dropped slightly, the service now had more expensive,complex cases, and re-referral rates had increased.

The county's safeguarding committee heard that for every £1 spend on early intervention work there could be a £7 saving in later costs to society.

Assistant director of social services Claire Shiels said not doing the work would also result in a social cost to individuals and to social cohesion – but she said there was a communication and persuasion task to be completed to keep the idea alive with fellow professionals.

The committee also heard that there had been an increase in the number of children deemed to be 'persistently absent' from school and that permanent exclusions were also believed to be increasing – including those who were only just old enough to attend school.

The children's services budget was more than £6million overspent in the last financial year with a projected overspend of more than £2million this year.