EXTRA support could be given to the family contact service in Monmouthshire as the number of children in care continues to rise.

Support workers tasked with giving youngsters quality time with their families are currently stretched by an increased demand for their services, leading to budget overspends.

Plans to fund a “flexible workforce”, which will see the existing contact team reconfigured and new staff hired, could be adopted by Monmouthshire County Council.

In Monmouthshire the number of children in care has increased by more than 75 per cent in eight years, with 139 recorded as of March 2018 compared to 83 in March 2010.

Currently the figure stands at 146 but the size of the contact team, which supervises contacts at centres in Abergavenny, Caldicot and Chepstow, was formed to support the 103 children recorded in 2014.

Children are also remaining in care for longer, meaning staff are required to supervise contacts for a longer time and on days they were initially not expected to cover.

A report says: “This rise in numbers together with increased demand from courts to provide contact on specific times and days, often weekends which the contact team was not set up to deliver, has resulted in the team being unable to meet demand.”

Independent providers had been initially used to cover weekend evening contacts between children and their families.

But with the number of children in care growing, the council has relied on outside help for meetings during normal working hours.

This reliance has seen the cost of commissioning external providers rise from an average £3,773 per month in 2016/17 to £10,499 – a 178 per cent hike in a single year.

Monmouthshire council spent £125,992 on independent providers last year, with the report saying similar costs can be expected “unless urgent steps are taken to bring it in check”.

Such steps are outlined in an overhaul of the council’s contact team, which is described in the report as “not fit for purpose”.

The new staffing structure retains six contact workers while employing five one-day contact workers, with funding available to cover additional workers if necessary.

The report says: “By creating a flexible workforce it is intended to ensure that if demand increases, there is never a need to commission expensive private provision and if demand decreases, then capacity can be similarly reduced, and any savings passed back into the local authority.”

The council has budgeted to spend £231,184 on the contact service in 2018/19 but the proposed restructure would need a further £46,323 added to the budget. It is hoped the move will cut overspends by £39,787 per year.

The proposals will be considered by Councillor Penny Jones, cabinet member for social care and health, next week.