County council chiefs now believe it is increasingly likely they won’t have enough funding to meet the needs of children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

According to the council’s updated risk register – which will be reported to a meeting of the council’s audit committee – the "risk of insufficient finances and resources to meet the needs of children and young people with SEND" is now “almost certain”.

The impact associated with the provision for SEND would be “very high”, says the report.

Previously the risk had been judged to be “likely”, rather than “almost certain” – and the impact ” high” rather than “very high”.

In response to the increasing risk, officials at the county council point to the number of children in the county with Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs)

EHCPs are legally binding documents that set out the extra support or help an individual child will need to overcome barriers to learning.

They say the number of children with EHCPs in the county has increased by 223 per cent since 2015.

According to the council’s risk register, if the number of children and young people with EHCPs continues to increase, there is a significant risk that current funding, specialist provision and work force capacity may be insufficient.

It says: “This could lead to unfunded spending over three years exceeding the currently-forecast £67m, and potential poorer outcomes for children, extensive government intervention and further adverse reputational impacts.”

The numerical score associated with the risk has now been increased from 32 to 80 - the highest risk on the register.

The report recognises that the Care Quality Commission inspection in 2023 had found that the council requires improvement in the Statutory SEND service.

And it states: “The service is struggling with the significant increase in caseload numbers as well as additional complex needs that some of the children have.

“This is not unique to Hertfordshire with difficulties being reported nationally.

“It is, therefore, appropriate that the likelihood is currently “almost certain”.

“The impact on children and young people requiring support as well as the resources and reputation of the council is reflected in the impact assessment of ‘very high’.”

Commenting on the heightened risk in advance of the meeting, a spokesperson for Hertfordshire County Council pointed to the increasing demand for services and the high costs of providing those services.

He said: “The delivery of statutory SEND services requires the council to invest substantial levels of funding over and above what we receive from central government.

“There has been a significant increase in the numbers of children and young people with EHC Plans in Hertfordshire since reforms to SEND provision with a 223 per cent increase since 2015.

“This means that currently Hertfordshire has the sixth highest cohort of children and young people supported with EHC Plans nationally.

“Hertfordshire finds itself in the same position as other local authorities with increasing demand for services.

“Due to the large costs involved in delivering for children with SEND, particularly those with high needs any increase in demand in turn leads to greater financial risk for the council as we try and set a balanced budget.

“This risk will continue if we see the upward trend in children presenting with SEND continue without the appropriate additional funding from government.

“By both managing risk and putting in place additional investment, we believe that we can continue to provide, and improve the services we deliver to the children most in need.”