Warning over dire situation of children’s social care

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Children’s social care is being pushed to breaking point, with 75 per cent of councils overspending by more than half-a-billion pounds, council leaders warn.

New analysis by the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, reveals that in 2015/16 councils surpassed their children’s social-care budgets by £605million in order to protect children at immediate risk of harm.

Councils have faced an unprecedented surge in demand for children’s social-care support over recent years. More than 170,000 children were subject to child protection inquiries in 2015/16, compared to 71,800 in 2005/06 – a 140 per cent increase in just 10 years.

The number of children on child protection plans increased by almost 24,000 over the same period, while ongoing cuts to local-authority budgets are forcing many areas to make extremely difficult decisions about how to allocate increasingly scarce resources.

The LGA is warning that the pressures facing children’s services are rapidly becoming unsustainable, with a £2billion funding gap expected by 2020. Unless urgent action is taken to reduce the number of families relying on the children’s social-care system for support, this gap will continue to grow.

The huge financial pressures councils are under, coupled with the spike in demand for child protection support, mean that the limited money councils have available is increasingly being taken up with the provision of urgent help for children and families already at crisis point, leaving very little to invest in early intervention.

Coun Richard Watts, chairman of the LGA’s children and young people board, said: “Councils have done everything they can to respond to the growing financial crisis in children’s social care, including reducing costs where they can and finding new ways of working.

“However, they are at the point where there are very few savings left to find without having a real and lasting impact upon crucial services that many children and families across the country desperately rely on.”