There are 217 children in the care of Devon County Council in children’s homes, foster care or supported living outside of the county council area, figures published by County Hall in Exeter confirm.

One is in a Children’s home 277 miles away in Calderdale, Yorkshire, while another is in Northumberland and other children are placed in care in London, Herefordshire, Luton and Wales.

The concerning figures have been disclosed to councillors by the authority which also confirmed 54 ‘Devon’ children were in care in Torbay, further 22 in Plymouth and 27 in Somerset.

The news comes at a time when there is growing national concern about children and young people being placed hundreds of miles away from their home area, often making it impossible for family to stay in touch where that is appropriate.

National figures indicate one in five children in care is living over 200 miles from their home area with the concern that such distant placements leave children feeling isolated and on their own.

“And there is no certainty Devon County Council will help family members visit children who are in care to maintain contact”.

The County Council’s lead councillor for Children’s Services, Cllr Andrew Leadbetter, told a council meeting in February: “We do not advertise financial help. Financial help is considered by social workers through the assessment and placement panel. Financial assistance may be available to families who wish to visit children out of county from the placements budget. Any support offered is dependent on the situation and needs of each individual child and is decided on that basis.”

There is also concern about the growing financial crisis at Devon County Council could lead to County Hall having to declare effective bankruptcy.

For the first time that I can ever recall, the county’s Chief Officers have warned that a special Section 114 Notice is now a ‘material threat’. The S114 Notice is an Order which bans all new spending with the exception of protecting vulnerable people and statutory services, but the very fact it is now being openly talked about shows the dire situation Devon County Council has got itself into.

“For too long there has been a pretence at County Hall that everything is fine and there is no problem and yet, Children’s Services have been failing for 12 years and the Government is thought to be on the cusp of sending in special Commissioners to take over the management of these services.

“The County Council has built up a huge deficit of around £130 million on services for children with special needs. It’s failed to get to grips with this and has been abandoned by the Government which has helped other councils but Devon is, once again, short changed.

“We also now learn we have 217 children placed in care – whether that’s a children’s home or foster care, well away from the County Council area. The priority is clearly what’s in the best interests of the children. However, I suspect many people will be wondering why there is not good provision here in Devon or closer to Devon than Northumberland or Yorkshire.

“This week, the county council’s Procedures Committee is meeting to consider a new report on the way the council is run and the arrangements for committee meetings. My worry is that the Conservative led council will, once more, start looking at where the deckchairs are placed rather than fixing the very obvious problem which have created very real financial holes at the waterline!.

Alan Connett