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LGA warns of anticipated spike in demand for services after falling numbers of referrals in lockdown

The Local Government Association is urging the government to use the forthcoming Spending Review to ensure councils have long-term, sustainable funding for children’s services ahead of anticipated rise in demand for support services.

While the number of referrals to children’s services decreased during lockdown, the impact of the restrictions imposed to combat the spread of coronavirus on children will be far-reaching and it is widely anticipated that there will be a spike in referrals when young people are back in schools and not hidden from teaching and social work professionals.

Cllr Judith Blake, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “The impacts of the pandemic will be far reaching for some children, young people and their families. As this becomes clearer, more children and their families are likely to need support and councils expect to see a significant rise in referrals to children’s social care and demand for wider children’s support services.

“Some children and their families will need significant interventions, but others will just need some extra help to get through a difficult period. It will be essential that the right services can be there to support them and help them cope,” she added.

It is for this very reason that WillisPalmer has launched our Children’s Charter to ensure children who have experienced abuse or neglect in lockdown are identified and offered the right support as soon as possible. We are urging the government to ensure children’s services are adequately resourced to cope with the expected demand in services to prevent a generation of young people being tarnished by the impact of lockdown.

The latest figures show children’s social care teams received 41,190 referrals between April and June – around 18 per cent lower than the same period over each of the past three years. They also reveal that 1,640 children started to be looked after as a result over the same period – down a third on the same period over each of the past three years.

Councils have deep concerns about falling referrals, according to the LGA. They are working with their partners and communities to try to identify children who may be at risk and putting in place plans to ensure that if referrals spike when children return to school this week, they are able to ensure children and families get the right help quickly.

Funding pressures and increased demand for child protection services prior to the pandemic has led to councils being forced to scale back or cut universal and early help services altogether.

The LGA is urging the government to use the forthcoming Spending Review to ensure councils have long-term, sustainable funding to invest in preventative, universal and early help services so children, young people and families receive the practical, emotional, educational and mental health support they need, as soon as they need it.

This will not only reduce demand on other parts of the public sector, including the NHS and police, but tackle the inequalities exposed by the pandemic and give all young people the chance to fulfil their potential.

Matt Dunkley, head of Kent Council’s children and young people’s department - the largest child protection department in the country, has warned that the increase in the number of referrals to children’s services could be in the region of 250%. He said there will be a “crisis” when children return to school.

Cllr Judith Blake, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, added: “It is vital that councils have the funding they need to support children, young people and families during the current phase of the crisis and beyond. Investment in crucial preventative services would mean help can be available when it is first needed and not when families and young people reach crisis point.”

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