Soaring demand drives cost of protecting vulnerable children up by a quarter

The number of children in care in England has increased dramatically over the last decade.

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The ever-increasing demand to protect vulnerable children who are at risk of being harmed has resulted in an increase of almost a quarter in the amount spent to provide support over the past five years.

Councils are warning that an upcoming national care review presents a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to establish long-awaited reform.

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The Local Government Association (LGA), which is a group that represents local councils, is requesting that the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care call for the publication of a white paper by the fall, in addition to proposing a long-term funding solution for services that have been “stuck in crisis mode” for an excessive amount of time.

The evaluation was requested by the government in order to determine which aspects of the children’s social care system require improvement and by how much.

Currently, departments that provide services for children are devoting a significant portion of their resources to assisting those who are in the greatest need of assistance.

This means that many councils are finding it difficult to invest in early support programmes, which are designed to save families from reaching a crisis point in the first place.

This comes as the most recent numbers reveal that councils in England spent over £10.5 billion on children’s social care in 2020/21 – about 25 percent more than they did in 2016/17, when expenditures were around £8.5 billion.

The number of children in care in England has increased from 65,510 in 2011 to 80,850 in 2021 – a 23% rise.

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The number of Section 47 enquiries, which are carried out when councils have reasonable cause to suspect a child is suffering significant harm or is at risk of such harm, has increased by 78 percent over the course of the past decade, from 111,700 in 2011 to 198,790 in 2021, moving from a low point of 111,700 in 2011.

To meet the ever-increasing need for assistance with vulnerable children, more than two thirds of councils are currently spending more money than they have available in their budgets. In the fiscal year 2020/21, local governments incurred an overspending shortfall of more than £800 million.

Despite the fact that councils increased their budgets by £708 million in that year alone and by £1.2 billion in the preceding two years, this result was nevertheless achieved.

Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “This is a crucial year for the services that support our children and young people, with the schools white paper, a SEND green paper and the care review all being published in quick succession.

“Councils, and the children, young people and families that they work with, have waited a long time for all of these pieces to be published.

“Children’s social care services have been stuck in crisis mode for too long. We are ready to start making the changes that will improve our services and make children’s lives better.

“These new figures demonstrate how hard councils are working to invest in the services children need. However spiralling costs and increased demand means that funding is largely supporting those in most urgent need of help.

“We continue to call on the Government to invest additional funding in the strong family help services that can prevent families from reaching crisis point.

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“The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care is a once-in-a-generation chance to reform our systems to make sure all children and their families receive the right support at the right time, to enable them to thrive.

“The review must be followed by a children’s social care white paper that demonstrates government’s commitment to investing in and reforming the services that change children’s lives.”

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