THE NUMBER of children in care in Solihull has increased as the borough battles with more child exploitation referrals.
Of the cared-for children in 2019, 375 are from Solihull and 71 are unaccompanied asylum seekers.
The net number of youngsters looked after by the council rose over the past year, as more children entered the care system than left it.
A report from head of children’s services Frank McSheffrey to Solihull councillors states: “The service saw an increase in the need for more specialist early support [in 2018/19], following the rise in exploitation: child sexual exploitation; criminal exploitation, movement of drugs across county borders; modern slavery; trafficking of young people and gang related issues.”
This year, the council also implemented more help for its care leavers, following regulations included in the Children and Social Act 2017.
Under the changes, care leavers received £250, all children in care were given leisure passes, their council tax was paid and all those aged under 18 years were given a laptop.
The council also started a new family support service in April, aiming to meet a rise in referrals related to the exploitation of children to move drugs and for child sexual abuse.
The council changed the process for referrals to its children’s services to go through a multi-agency safeguarding hub, formed of the councils children’s services, education, police, probation and the NHS.
On its launch, Solihull Children’s services said: “The MASH brings together partner agencies to share information, knowledge and skills to enable the right decisions to be made. Support is then identified and put in place at the right time to safeguard and protect the children and young people of Solihull.”
More than half of referrals from the MASH led to an intervention by children’s services in the last quarter of 2018/19, falling to 40 per cent from April 2019.
In July, the Youth Offending Service became a permanent member of the safeguarding hub. The council report said: “This will enable the local authority to screen all cases where criminal exploitation is being considered as part of the referral process.
“Joint working between children services and Youth Offending Services has increased the Local Authority’s ability to deliver a more appropriate and targeted service to our most vulnerable children and young people as well as increase practitioners expertise in managing growing concerns around wider exploitation.”