The number of serious incident notifications in England rose 19% in 2020/21 to 536, the Local Government Association has warned.
The total was also 41% higher than the 379 incidents five years ago in 2015/16.
The LGA also revealed that the highest proportion of serious incident notifications in 2020/21 continued to be for children aged under one, with 191 incidents (36%).
The number of notices relating to child deaths increased by 35 (19%), from 188 to 223.
The LGA said it was “extremely concerned about children’s safety amid extra pressures on families during the pandemic, with acts of abuse more likely to go unseen ‘behind closed doors’ during successive lockdowns”.
The Association suggested that, “despite pressures on funding”, councils had tried to protect budgets for the services that protect children, investing an additional £1.1bn over the last two years by diverting funding from other local services. “Despite these efforts, soaring demand for safeguarding services means councils still overspent their children’s social care budgets by £832m in 2019/20.”
The LGA said this was clear evidence of the urgent need for the forthcoming Spending Review to invest further in children’s social care. It has repeated its call for the £1.7bn removed from the Early Intervention Grant since 2010 to be reinstated.
The Association is meanwhile calling for a cross-Whitehall strategy that puts children and young people at the heart of recovery and ensures local safety nets are properly resourced and well organised.
Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “Supporting and protecting vulnerable children is one of the most important roles played by councils who want to ensure all children are safe, loved and thrive, so this rise in serious incident notifications is particularly harrowing and a huge cause for concern.
“The pandemic has put extra pressure on families, particularly those living in difficult circumstances, which can fuel harmful acts of abuse or neglect on children. Councils have been working hard with their partners to identify this and provide the help children need, but it is vital that children’s social care services are funded to meet this need.”
She added: “The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care has already identified that there is no situation in the current system where we will not need to spend more to keep children safe. The Government must heed this warning.
“We also want to work with government to produce a cross-Whitehall strategy for children and young people, clearly articulating the role that all departments will play in keeping children safe and well. It is only by working together that we can effectively safeguard our most vulnerable young people.”