Educational Health and Care Plans (EHCP) for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) have increased almost a third in the past year, Hertfordshire councillors were told.

Councillors reviewed the progress of Herts County Council’s children’s services’ performance for the fourth quarter period of January and March 2024.

The report detailing the successes and challenges faced in children’s services was analysed at a meeting of the council’s Children, Young People & Families cabinet panel on Friday, June 21.

A key area of performance is in the issuing of Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCP) for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), which have had backlogs throughout the country.

The report noted: “The good progress in issuing final EHCPs continued through Quarter Four with 669 finalised in the period.

"The position at the end of the financial year was 32 per cent higher than in the previous year, reflecting both the challenges of issuing plans during 2022/23 and the subsequent work to reduce the backlog of overdue assessments.

“Significant progress in reducing the numbers of overdue plans, particularly during Q4, supported by additional resources in the assessment team from the Making SEND Everybody’s Business investment.

“Completing more of the historic cases has, at the same time, impacted on the proportion of plans issued during the period in time.

“There has been strong performance throughout the quarter in completing assessments as they become due, but the issuing of historic assessments particularly between October 2023 and March 2024 has impacted on overall timeliness in the quarter.”

The report stated that its Families First programme, play a key role in addressing problems in early years children, with support from providers such as children’s centres, the Specialist Adolescent Service Hertfordshire (SASH) and Supporting Families Programme (formerly Troubled Families).

Overall, there were 218 assessments completed in the Families First programme across the fourth quarter, relating to 513 children.

Paul Dryden, senior performance and development manager, told councillors: “Some of the families we’re working with are quite big sibling groups and that does have an effect on the number of assessments that are completed.”

Cllr Peter Hebden said: “When one thinks of the stability for the children in care, the thought of children being in three-plus homes is quite heart-breaking really.

“What’s not actually in this report is recruitment and retention of foster carers, which is very, very important.

“Is information regarding recruitment of foster carers in another report?”

Janet Jones, interim director of children’s services, said: “Just to note there are challenges in foster care recruitment, a lot of that we think is probably linked to the cost of living to our foster care population, which is also an older population.

“But recruitment into foster care is challenging, and so again, we do have to be creative and innovative around that offer. So there is the fostering strategy that has been to panel before, there is the development of our emergency foster carers.

“We’re looking at a very specialist foster care role at present so there is lots of activity taking place in that space to try and continue to recruit the best foster carers that we can.”