THE number of children in care in Dudley fell for the third year running – bucking national and local trends.

The drop in cases is a major success for the council which was heavily criticised by by Ofsted two years ago which said there were “serious and widespread failures” in the service.

A report to the authority's Children’s Services Scrutiny Committee showed the number of youngsters in its care has fallen from 737 in March 2015 to 660 by April 2018.

The figures come after the education watchdog reported in May that “positive” steps were being made by the council.

Nationally and locally authorities have reported that the number of children being taken into care is rising, putting increasing pressure on budgets.

Dudley’s local authority neighbour Sandwell recently reported its looked after service had seen another 200 youngsters taken into care last year and predicted it would overspend its budget by £3.6 million.

But Dudley Council does share the problem of recruiting permanent social workers experienced by many local authorities, with almost half of its staff supplied by expensive agencies.

Since December 2017 the number of non-direct employees has risen from 35 per cent to 47 per cent.

In its recent monitoring visit Ofsted raised concerns over the number of children individual social workers were dealing with, saying: “Case loads in case management and assessment teams are too high.

“Further improvement is required in the management of staff turnover and case loads.

“Some children experience delays in social workers progressing their plans, including delays in having their cases closed to statutory services.”