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Councils warn of "immense pressure" as number of children in care reaches record level

The number of children in care has risen by 28% in the past decade pushing the system to breaking point, the Local Government Association (LGA) has warned.

In the last year alone the number of children in care reached 78,150, up from 75,370 in 2018.

It said this huge increase in demand had combined with the funding shortages caused by austerity to put “immense pressure” on councils’ ability to support vulnerable children and young people.

These factors also hampered councils in providing the early help that can stop children and families reaching crisis point in the first place.

The LGA noted the Conservative general election manifesto had promised a review of the children’s social care system.

It said this should be “a great opportunity for [the government] to work with councils and partners, such as schools, social workers and foster carers to improve the system”.

Securing the financial sustainability of children’s social care services should be central to this review, the LGA said, as councils had been forced to overspend on children’s social care budgets by almost £800m last year to deal with the rising costs involved.

Judith Blake, chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said the current financing of children’s care was “unsustainable” and “councils need to be given a seat at the table for the care system review, alongside children, families and partners, to make sure this looks at what really matters and what can really make a difference.

“It needs to ensure that children’s services are fully funded and councils cannot only support those children who are in care, but provide the early intervention and prevention support that can stop children and families reaching crisis point in the first place.” 

According to the LGA’s figures, councils have seen a 53% increase in children on child protection plans in the past decade, equivalent to 18,160 children, and the past decade has seen a 139% increase in cases where a child may be suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm, equivalent to an additional 117,070 cases.

Mark Smulian

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