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Child protection enquiries rise by 125% in a decade

The number of child protection enquiries to local authority children’s services departments has increased by 125% over the last 10 years, a parliamentary research briefing has shown.

Department for Education (DfE) data on local authority social care activity between 31 March 2010 and 2020 showed an increase in activity across a range of measures including the amount of child protection enquiries, the number of children on child protection plans and the number of looked after children.

“However, there is also considerable variation between local authorities in the activity of children’s social care,” the briefing warns.

The report shows that the number of:

- Children in need has risen by 4%

- Child protection enquiries rose by 125%

- Child protection plans increased by 32%

- Looked after children went up by 24%.

The number of referrals made to children’s social care services per year also increased by 5% from around 615,000 in 2010/11 to 643,000 in 2019/20.

A number of factors have been suggested as to what has driven the increase in demand for children’s social care over the last decade. This includes:

- A growth in the number of children aged between 0 and 17.

- Parenting capacity and needs – adults experiencing domestic abuse, mental health difficulties or substance misuse are the most common reasons why children come to the attention of children’s social care services.

- Poverty and the continuing impact of welfare reforms and economic downturns.

- A growing awareness of risks faced by adolescents outside of the family home, including exploitation by criminal gangs and county lines.

- The coronavirus outbreak which has placed greater stress on some children and families.

Concerns have also been raised about the reduced visibility of vulnerable children during the pandemic and these concerns have been exacerbated by a reduction in referrals to children’s social care. It has additionally been suggested that the pandemic may have impacted the availability and cost of placements for looked after children.

Local authorities in England spent £9.93 billion on children’s social care in 2019/20. The majority of children’s social care funding is not ring-fenced and it is for local authorities to decide how to prioritise their spending based on local priorities and need.

More recently, the government has announced additional ring-fenced funding for children’s social care. The Spending Review 2020 announced £300 million of additional grant funding for adult and children’s social care which was on top of an additional £1 billion of funding, which was announced at the Spending Round 2019 and is being maintained in each year of the current Parliament.

The government has also provided additional funding for support services for children and families during the Covid-19 pandemic to help local authorities respond to pressures faced as a result of the pandemic, across all service areas.

While data suggests that local authorities have generally protected spending on children’s social care services, despite government funding for local authorities falling in real terms for much of the period, concerns have been raised that children’s social care is facing significant funding pressures. The Association of Directors of Children’s Services has estimated that the total required to close the budget gap in-year is £824.1m to ‘stay still’. There is also evidence that spending on non-statutory children’s services, in particular for early help and preventative interventions, has been reduced in many areas.

The independent review into children’s social care, led by Josh MacAllister, was launched in January and aims to look at the care system to make sure children and young adults get the support they need, radically reform the system, and raise the bar for vulnerable children across the country.

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