Herefordshire children's services has been accused of having a "you hatch, we snatch" policy of taking babies into care, as the true cost of the county's high rate of looked-after children emerged.

In response to a public question to Herefordshire Council's full meeting of councillors last Friday, cabinet member for children's services Coun Diana Toynbee said that the average cost to the council of each looked-after child or young person between April and September inclusive was £21,870, or £841 per child per week.

But as the table below shows, this varies widely depending on the form of care. For example, each of the 50 children in residential care cost the council nearly £85,000 over the six-month period, or nearly £170,000 a year.

Herefordshire's likely overspend in the current financial year is now expected to hit £11.2 million, and a recent council budget forecast showed that £7.2 million, or nearly two-thirds, of this overspend is accounted for by children's services.

Herefordshire's "looked-after rate" was given in July as 109 per 10,000 children, an increase on the previous year and around 50 per cent higher the average for England.


In the last financial year, Herefordshire Council took 24 babies under a year old into care, including 19 within 10 days of birth – a rate of 6.7 per 10,000 children, again nearly 50 per cent higher than the average for England.

Liz Anstey said at the council meeting that "the phrase 'you hatch, we snatch' has often been bandied about by social workers".

Her question to the council claimed that complaints to children's services "are often brushed off, not fully responded to or prolonged, (and) concerns about staff ignored".

Coun Toynbee said on this: "Families having to wait too long for responses is not acceptable, and improving our complaints procedures, and making them clear to everyone, is one of our top priorities.

"A new, permanent complaints manager is now in post. We are confident that as we continue to do better in our work alongside families, fewer causes for complaint will arise."

Another Herefordshire parent, Melissa Portman-Lewis, claimed that families that have contacted the council's Care Concerns helpline, set up last year, "have still not had responses, and for most there is no sign of the apologies promised".

To this, Coun Toynbee said the council has published an apology in the media and on its website, and that "all families who have contacted Care Concerns who provided their contact details have been responded".

"Is it not time for an independent body to be set up to deal fairly, competently and urgently with the families affected by historic inadequacy?" Ms Portman-Lewis asked.

Both improvement adviser Gladys Rhodes White and commissioner for children's services Eleanor Brazil, appointed by the Government to look into the department's failings, "are independent to the local authority", Coun Toynbee said.

Responding to a written question by another local mother, Hannah Currie, Coun Toynbee said that since Jan 2021, 11 "disciplinary, dismissal or termination actions" have taken place in the children's services directorate.

Ms Currie also claimed that employing agency and fixed-term staff meanwhile "allow the council to avoid accountability when facing scrutiny".

Coun Toynbee replied that "at present we do not have sufficient permanent staff to effectively run our children's services, and as such we have to also employ agency staff in the short term, many of (whom) bring significant skills and experience".

Council leader David Hitchiner told the meeting: "We are working very hard, spending a lot of money in this area to improve things, and I look forward to the support of all councillors as we look to improve this area of the council that is so important for everybody."

What are your thoughts?

You can send a letter to the editor to have your say by clicking here.

Letters should not exceed 250 words and local issues take precedence.