Council leaders have warned of an unprecedented surge in demand for children’s social care services, with local authorities forced to exceed their budgets by £605 million in order to protect children at immediate risk of harm.
New analysis by the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, found a shocking increase in the number of children subject to child protection enquiries.
The analysis found that more than 170,000 children were subject to child protection enquiries in 2015/16, compared to 71,800 in 2005/06 – an increase of 140% over the last 10 years. The data also shows a rise of almost 24,000 in the number of children placed on child protection plans.
The LGA says pressures faced by children’s social care services are rapidly becoming unsustainable, warning that a £2 billion funding gap is pushing the system “to breaking point”. Without urgent action to address the funding shortfall the LGA warn this gap will continue to widen.
Analysis shows that government funding for the Early Intervention Grant has been cut by almost £500 million since 2013, with further cuts of £183 million expected by 2020. The LGA says these cuts have made it more difficult to support families and prevent vulnerable children from entering the social care system.
The closure of 365 children’s centres and 603 youth centres since 2012 have only exacerbated the problems faced by social workers and children’s social services, as councils are forced into making difficult decisions about which services they can afford to provide.
Cllr Richard Watts, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “The fact that the majority of councils are recording high levels of children’s services overspend in their local areas shows the sheer scale of the funding crisis we face in children’s social care, both now and in the near future.
“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.
“With councils facing a £2 billion funding gap for children’s services in just three years’ time it is more important than ever that the Government prioritises spending in this area.
“There is no question that early intervention can help to limit the need for children to enter the social care system, lay the groundwork for improved performance at school and even help to ease future pressure on adult social care by reducing the pressure on services for vulnerable adults.
“However, cuts to the Early Intervention Grant have exacerbated a difficult situation where councils cannot afford to withdraw services for children in immediate need of protection to invest in early help instead.
“The reality is that services for the care and protection of vulnerable children are now, in many areas, being pushed to breaking point.
“Government must commit to the life chances of children and young people by acting urgently to address the growing funding gap.”