Dorset Council may employ a children’s services officer in the Midlands – because the county has so many children it looks after in the area.

The council has one of the highest percentage figures in the country for children in care living outside their home area because of a lack of suitable places within Dorset. Recent figures show this now stands at around 140, more than one in four of Dorset looked after children.

This week’s corporate parenting board is being told that it would make economic sense to now base a Dorset independent reviewing officer (IRO) in the Midlands.

The IROs play a key role in protecting children’s interests and keeping their cases on track. Their job include making sure a range of statutory obligations are met and in improving the quality of care plans.

Because of the relatively high number of Dorset children in care outside the county the authority says it will investigate employing an IRO who is based in the Midlands, to save on travel time and other costs.

“This would go some way to addressing the provision of an IRO service to children at a distance and operating more efficiently. Travel time is a significant issue with children placed in North Wales, Birmingham, Newcastle etc,” said a report to tomorrow's meeting of the board.

The board will also hear that the council is also planning to reduce the number of children it has a legal responsibility for by around ten per cent or more.

“A reduction in overall numbers to around 400 would achieve a significant saving to the local authority in terms of placement costs, social work time, IRO time. The average cost of an internal placement is £375 a week, £780,000 a year (overall); and an external placement £800 a week, £1.6M a year. A reduction in 40 looked after cases would also enable a reduction of IRO time,” said the report.

An annual report on the IRO service, also being presented to councillors, says that in June 2018 55% of care plans were deemed inadequate and 10% requiring improvement. At the end of March 2019 87.5% were good, 7.5% requiring improvement and 4.17% inadequate.

A total of 1,241 looked after children reviews were chaired by IROs in the year ending 31st March 2019 with children and young people attending 584 of them. Almost 79 per cent were held within the timescale they should have been. Each IRO has a case load of between 60 and 70 cases, at the top end of the recommended number.