Severe funding shortages for social services that protect vulnerable children have pushed nearly nine in 10 councils into the red, new analysis by the LGA reveals today, prompting warnings that funding for children’s care is now in a country-wide crisis.
New figures show that a total of 133 out of 152 councils (88 per cent) were forced to spend more money than they had planned to on children’s social care in the last year (2017/18). This amounted to an overspend of £806 million.
The LGA says the number of councils spending more than they budgeted for indicates the immense pressure they are under to support vulnerable children and young people, and emphasises that this is now an issue affecting all areas of the country.
It estimates that children’s services already face a £3.1 billion funding gap by 2025 just to maintain the current levels of service, and is calling on the Government to announce desperately needed new money into the system.
This comes as latest figures show that the number of looked after children continues to increase to the highest level since the 1980s, with a total of 75,420 children in the care of councils in England.
The LGA says that the support necessary to keep children safe from immediate risk of harm can be extremely expensive, forcing councils to cut or end vital early intervention services which can help prevent children from entering care in the first place.
At the same time, the number of children supported through a child protection plan to keep them safe from harm increased by more than 2,700 over the past year - the biggest annual increase in four years, and an 84 per cent increase in the number of children on plans over the past decade.
Councils say that the combination of increased demand and cuts in central government funding have left children’s services at a tipping point.
Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, said:
“This should be a wake-up call to the country-wide crisis we are facing in funding services to protect vulnerable children and young people, which as these figures show is now being felt in all towns and cities across the country.
“The fact that the overwhelming majority of councils are now being forced to spend more than they had planned to on children’s social care highlights the urgent need for the Government to provide new and long-term significant funding for children’s services.
“While the additional investment announced in the Budget was a small step in the right direction and helpful, this will do little to alleviate the immediate and future pressures on services for some of the most vulnerable children and families in nearly all areas of the country.
“It is vital that the Government tackles the funding crisis facing children’s services in next year’s Spending Review, and delivers a long-term sustainable funding solution that enables councils to protect children at immediate risk of harm while also supporting early intervention to prevent problems escalating in the first place.”
Helping children and young people to fulfil their potential is a key ambition of all councils, but our children’s services are under increasing pressure.
Bright Futures is our call for fully funded children's services.