COUNCIL chiefs face a “massive” £6 million overspend this year as they try to help children with “extremely complex” mental health needs who have “come out of nowhere” during the pandemic.

More children being taken into care, expensive residential placements and the use of agency staff have contributed to a predicted end-of-year overspend of £5,952,000, a meeting of City of York Council's children, education and communities policy scrutiny committee was told on Tuesday.

The children's social care department, which was issued with a critical Ofsted report in 2019 - which said vulnerable children were exposed to “inappropriate” risk - also has “more work to do” to ensure it is rated ‘good’ at an imminent inspection, according to director of people, Amanda Hatton.

Councillor Robert Webb questioned why the budget was “so far away”, adding: “We are talking about a huge, massive overspend…we’ve known for two or three years about this growth in the number of children in our care…so I was wondering were we just burying our heads in the sand and putting our budget in the wrong place?”

Michael Melvin, assistant director of adult social care, who is responsible for the children’s social care budget, replied: “We’ve seen some children with extremely complex needs, a small number, which has cost an awful lot to meet those in the most appropriate way.

“What we’ve seen over the past months is some of those young people have come almost out of nowhere, particularly around mental health and emotional needs."

A report by Ms Hatton, who is set to leave the authority at the end of October for a post at City of Edinburgh Council, said the children’s social care budget remains “under significant pressure”.

The council department’s budget is calculated based on the authority having 200-210 children and young people in its care, but there are currently 262.

Ms Hatton told the meeting that work was focused on increasing foster carer recruitment, thereby reducing the residential care bill, and reducing agency costs by training social workers in-house and making York a more attractive place to work for new and experienced social workers.

Councillor Fiona Fitzpatrick urged Councillor Ian Cuthbertson, executive member for children, education and young people, and his colleagues to “fight for as much money as we can possibly get” for children’s services in the next council budget.

Ms Hatton added that indications so far were that “we are now at the point that our practice is safe, but we have more work to do to move our practice into ‘good’.”

A 2019 report into York children’s services found there had been a decline in the quality of services for children in need of help and protection since 2016, warning that “some children continue to be exposed to risk”.

At the scrutiny meeting, Ms Hatton told councillors there were numerous measures still in place “to make sure that we are all over the performance for our children”.