A SMALL group of children in the care of Dorset Council have still not returned to school – but are being supported to do so.

Children’s services director Theresa Leavy said some were suffering anxiety about returning to the classroom after a relatively long period of not attending.

“There is a small, but significant number who have not returned to school, but we are talking to them and will support them to get back,” she told a meeting of the Dorset Council corporate parenting panel.

The director said more work was also needed with young people in the council’s care who are not in education, employment or training.

Dorset Council currently has around 450 children and young people in its care, a figure which it says is too high and which national statistics show as being higher than comparable council areas.

Other pandemic-related problems include the difficulty in getting dental appointments for children in care although the rate of children now undergoing routine medical checks and having a permanency plan completed has improved.

Delays have also been experienced, because of the pandemic, in completing some adoptions with 21 children adopted across Dorset and the Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole area during the year.

The latest figures for how long the process takes, which are pre-Covid, show that from a child moving into the care of the local authority to living with an adopted family is 357 days on average. The figures for this year are expected to be worse, often because of delays in the court system.

Michelle Whiting, from the Aspire adoption agency, which operates across Dorset and the Bournemouth area, said the work of staff has continued almost uninterrupted throughout the last year, quickly moving to virtual meetings.

She said that because of the relatively low numbers of children being adopted, just one complex case, could skew the figures for delay.

The panel was told that, as with fostering, there was a particular need for people who would care for older children and groups of siblings.