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Councils predict 100,000 children in care by 2025

There could be 100,000 children in local authority care by 2025, the County Councils Network has warned.

Sad girl looking out of a rainy window

While there were 69,000 children in care in 2015, CCN warns that number of vulnerable children being placed in council care could reach almost 100,000 by the middle of the decade.

Cllr Tim Oliver, Chairman of the County Councils Network said: “Protecting young people from serious harm is one of the most important roles for a council, and this analysis shows the unprecedented pressure that rising numbers of children in care will place on our budgets by the middle of this decade.

“Councils are in a vicious cycle: due to financial pressures local authorities have had to reduce preventative services to focus on intervention in crisis situations, alongside facing a lack of alternative solutions, such as foster care.

“The reality is that there are too many vulnerable children being placed in expensive residential care settings and staying in the care system for longer. With the situation becoming unsustainable, we need additional funding and an unrelenting focus on preventing family breakdown and keeping families together, alongside systemic reform of how councils work with their public sector partners to achieve these aims,” he added.

Unless these trends are abated through major reforms and investment, local authorities in England could be forced to spend £3.6bn a year more in 2025 on children in care compared to 2015.

The CCN believes that too many vulnerable children are being placed in expensive residential care settings due to an insufficient number of alternatives, such as foster carers. Councils are also having to reduce preventative services, particularly for those most in risk of entering the care system.

An ‘unrelenting’ focus on preventing family breakdown is required, supporting families to stay together, where it is safe to do so. Cllr also calls for a systemic reform of the way local public services work together to reduce the number children entering the care system, and crucially, the number of young people staying in care for longer.

He adds that the reliance on expensive care placements is placing unprecedented pressure on local authority budgets, with the costs of supporting children in the care of local authorities set to consume 60% of their children’s services budgets by 2025. As a result there will be far less money for services to support families.

Cllr Oliver says councils have faced a ‘vicious cycle’, where local authorities have had to reduce early intervention services and support to families in crisis where a child is at risk of requiring care services, due to funding pressures.

CCN figures show that:

  • The number of children in care could rise to 95,000 by 2025, up from 69,000 in 2015: a 36% increase. This could mean councils’ spend on children in care rises from £3.8bn in 2015 to £7.4bn in 2025. As a proportion of their children and family budgets, spending on children in care could rise to 59% of their total by the middle of the decade, up from 42% in 2015.

  • The number of children in residential care has increased by 27% since 2015 as a result of local authorities struggling to source suitable alternatives, such as foster carers.

  • The number of foster carers has not kept up with demand.
  • Residential care is the most expensive form of care with an average weekly residential placement having increased from £2,915 per week in 2014 to £4,165 in 2020, and this is one of the factors in local authorities overspending on their children’s services budgets.

  • Many local authorities have taken the decision to reduce preventative services by £436m (18%) since 2015, due to funding pressures.

County leaders say the answer is not solely down to finances and have called for the review to investigate how all parts of the public sector – local authorities, schools, police, courts, and the health service – work better together on emerging issues, such as mental health. This could only be done effectively if children’s services continue to be locally delivered by councils, the CCN concludes.

Charlotte Ramsden, ADCS President, said: “This report reinforces a number of issues which ADCS has been raising with government for many years, namely growing levels of need in our communities set against year on year reductions to local authority budgets as well as a shortage of appropriate placements at high prices for children in care. The report describes a bleak future for children, families and children’s services, if necessary changes to and investment in the system is not realised. Whilst some children will always need to come into care, we agree that there should be a greater focus on supporting families to stay together safely by providing targeted, early support, in line with the Children Act 1989.

“However, when budgets are under pressure difficult decisions must be made. Investment at both ends of the spectrum is urgently needed to enable children to be brought up within their own families, where possible. But this is about more than funding, it’s about having a range of placement options, effective support services and a well-supported workforce available when and where they’re needed. National investment in early help, national standards for our care system together with the capacity to deliver them, will mean fewer children need to be in care but that those who do can thrive. We can’t go on as we are, the government and the Care Review must deliver on a plan that enables us to build a care system that works for children,” she concluded.

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