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Cheshire East Council children’s services could face a £167,000 budget cut – despite a recent Ofsted report saying it “requires improvement to be good”.

The proposed budget cut for “early help” children’s support in 2021-22 will not affect front-line services, councillors have been told.

But CEC’s early help services were praised by Ofsted inspectors following a recent inspection – despite overall children’s services rated as ‘requiring improvement’ overall.

Ofsted found since its 2015 and 2018 visits that “early help services have improved, enabling more children and families to access timely and appropriate support”.

On the same day the Ofsted report was published, Conservative Cllr Janet Clowes said: “What did come out of that executive summary was the praise for our early help services.

“I just wonder – is this the right time to be looking to make savings in that area?”

Early help services are designed to support younger vulnerable children through earlier intervention, to prevent them entering the care system later.

Cllr Liz Wardlaw, chairman of the health and adult social care scrutiny committee, said members of that panel shared concerns about the proposed saving.

In particular, she said members were concerned about the “compounded effects” of that budget cut alongside three more that are proposed, including:

– A £150,000 budget cut for the FACT 22 safeguarding scheme for children in need across Crewe and Macclesfield
– A £150,000 budget cut for the Healthy Child Programme for 0 to 19-year-olds, and
– A 20 per cent cut in CEC’s contribution to the Cheshire Youth Justice Service, worth £90,000 over the next two years.

But Mark Palethorpe, acting executive director of people at CEC, insisted the cut to the early help budget would not affect front-line resources.

He said: “The investment in early help clearly is a significant factor in the support we get to our young children and the impact that has on their journey in life.

“What this proposal is looking to do is focus more around our interface with education, using the facilities that we have, but also working with children’s social care to make sure the most vulnerable children who need that support earlier is coordinated in that locality.

“We wouldn’t need as many managers doing what we have at the moment, and therefore that is where the saving would come from.

“This is not looking to reduce front-line services.”

The Ofsted report, published last week after inspectors visited in November, also criticised CEC for improvements needed in other areas of children’s services.

It said: “There are avoidable delays in determining and implementing plans for some children, and not all vulnerabilities are fully recognised and addressed.

“Some children wait too long to enter care and experience a sense of permanence.

“Children experiencing chronic long-term neglect, children who are privately fostered, and homeless 16 and 17-year-olds are not always receiving appropriate help.

“Care leavers needing emergency accommodation are not always placed in accommodation where they feel safe and have their needs met.

“Senior leaders and managers were not fully aware of some of these shortfalls until the inspection.

“Efforts to improve foster carer recruitment have not had sufficient impact and some foster carers feel poorly supported.”

You can read the full Ofsted report on CEC children’s services here.

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