SOCIAL Services at Clackmannanshire Council has managed to turn around a negative trend, re-uniting families while saving millions of pounds of taxpayer money in the process.

A report tabled at the first-ever sitting of the new People Committee last week detailed the achievements, which received praise from all corners of the chamber.

Elected members last Thursday, August 30, heard how in 2016, Clackmannanshire saw the highest number of youngsters looked after away from home in Scotland.

Accordingly, the local authority had the highest spend in this field around the country – the net cost of children in residential schools was just over £4million in 2016-17.

However, successful schemes to bring children back from expensive placements, a drive to recruit more foster parents locally and the creation of a family support service brought the costs down to just around £2.5m in 2017-18.

Moreover, this financial year’s forecast is projecting further improvements with estimates showing the money spent on residential placements will be down to just above £1.5m.

That amounts to a £2.5m shift over the two years in this one area of service delivery, in comparison the projected budget gap for the council is estimated to be £12.6m next year.

Papers at the local authority highlighted the weekly cost for a child in a residential school can rack up to as much as £4,000.

According to the report brought to council, the introduction of the Functional Family Therapy service in particular had a positive impact, working with some of the most vulnerable young people between the ages of 11 and 18.

It worked with a dozen families in the first half 2017 and none of the children or young people involved went into care.

The document said: “There have been demonstrable improved outcomes in relation to returning children home, improved attendance at school and retaining young people at home.”

SNP Councillor Les Sharp moved the paper, hailing the budget savings, but saying the main concern was “getting families back together” so they can progress and become good citizens.

Labour opposition leader Cllr Dave Clark was happy to second the report.

Coming from a social works background himself, he said he was passionate about improving the lives of children, especially those from deprived backgrounds.

He added that “some risks” had been taken and the council now needs to stick by head of social services Celia Grey and “toughen it out with her”.

The councillor also highlighted that having more children back in the county could increase costs elsewhere, adding: “Social works is half the battle, education is the other.”

Their sentiment was echoed by Conservative representatives Cllrs Martha Benny and Darren Lee, both supporting the paper and applauding the good work done by civil servants.

The former highlighted achieving savings can be “challenging”, but the staff are doing the job.

Delivered in partnership with Action for Children, the Functional Family Therapy service is staffed by four people, including two full-time therapists, and will cost just over £100,000 this year, compared to the millions of pounds saved.