More council funding needed 'to prevent children reaching crisis-point'

By Agencies
February 25, 2020

Unprecedented demand and funding shortages have combined to put council children’s social care budgets under increasing pressure, the Local Government Association (LGA) has revealed.

New analysis by the LGA said these pressures have forced councils to overspend on children’s social care budgets by more than £3 billion in the past five years in trying to keep children safe

The LGA said councils are pleased the Government has recognised this by providing additional social care funding this year. It is calling on the Government to also use the forthcoming review of the children’s social care system to work with councils to understand what is driving demand for support and how councils can provide vital care for our most vulnerable whilst also investing in early help and prevention services.

There are now more than 52,000 children subject to a child protection plan to keep them safe from harm – an increase of 53 per cent since 2010. The number of children in care (78,150) has increased by 28 per cent in the past decade.

This sharp rise in need for urgent child protection services has coincided with reductions in central government funding for councils. This has increasingly meant funding being diverted from the early intervention and preventative services which help families and young people before they reach crisis point, into services to protect those at immediate risk. For example, councils spent 25 per cent less on children’s centres in 2017/18 compared with 2014/15. 

LGA analysis reveals that councils have tried to protect budgets for children, with budgets for children’s social care rising by an average of more than £600 million a year over the past five years. 

Despite these efforts, unprecedented demand and cost pressures mean they have still had to overspend on children’s social care budgets each year and by a total of £3.2 billion over the same five-year period. More than eight in 10 councils were forced to spend above £800 million more than they planned to on children’s social care last year alone – despite increasing their budgets by more than half a billion pounds yet again.

Extra government funding will help meet demand and cost pressures this year. The LGA said long-term, sustainable funding for children’s services will be needed in the forthcoming Spending Review for councils to provide the best possible support for vulnerable children and young people. 

Cllr Judith Blake, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said:“These figures show the unprecedented demand pressures facing children’s services and the care system. Councils want to make sure that children can get the best, rather than just get by, and that means investing in the right services to reach them at the right time.

“Councils need to play a lead role in the Government’s review of the care system alongside children, families and partners, to make sure it looks at what really matters and what can really make a difference. A long-term sustainable funding solution would enable councils to protect children at immediate risk of harm while also supporting early help to prevent problems escalating in the first place.”

Commenting on the news, Sam Royston, Director of Policy and Research at The Children’s Society, said: “Devastating funding cuts have left councils struggling to offer crucial early help for families which can prevent children reaching crisis point. 

“As they seek to protect vital services it is no surprise they are ending up overspending on budgets which simply don't meet the demand they are facing to support really vulnerable children. Too many children are not getting the help they deserve, without which they may be more likely to be unhappy, go missing and be at risk of criminal and sexual exploitation. 

“The £1 billion a year extra pledged by the Government over the course of the Parliament covers the entire social care system, including adult care, and while welcome falls far short of what is needed. The Government’s promised social care review must address this shortfall and ensure councils get the long-term funding they need to support all children and families who need help.” 

* Local Government Association https://www.local.gov.uk/

* The Children's Society https://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/

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