More than 600 vulnerable children a day were referred to local authorities’ children’s services in the months following the first lockdown, it has emerged.
The County Councils Network reported that 630 young people a day were referred to children’s services in the months after the first lockdown, which began in March 2020, as local authorities reported an increase in demand for mental health and family support services.
Cllr Keith Glazier, children and young people spokesperson for the County Councils Network, said: “The impacts of the pandemic will be far reaching for all of us, and especially for young children who lost months of schooling but also safeguarding and support earlier this year. Over that period, we feared an invisible crisis and that abuse and other issues were going unchecked behind closed doors and since the first lockdown has ended, we have seen a rise in referrals.
The County Councils Network reveals that its councils saw a 15% increase in young people being referred for local authority support in the months of July, August, and September, compared to the three lockdown months prior when services and schools were closed – and at a rate of 634 young people a day in county areas.
Their survey also found that nine in 10 councils had projected an overspend on their budgets this year. Their combined total of a £102m projected overspend comprises of pressures in family support, safeguarding, placements, and children who have been taken into council-arranged care. These services make up the majority, but not all, of councils’ children’s services departments.
The increase in the three months to the end of September compared to the spring amounted to 7,518 extra young people being referred to councils’ children’s services. Council leaders say they are now seeing the effects of an ‘invisible crisis’ over the spring, illustrating the emotional and financial impacts of the pandemic.
The survey revealed that:
- Almost two-thirds of councils surveyed (64%) said that mental health during the pandemic – from both the parent and/or the child – was one of the top reasons for referrals over the last few months.
- One council said it was receiving over 22 referrals a week due to mental health issues on average since the first lockdown ended – an increase of 96%.
- Alcohol or substance abuse was another major factor behind increasing referrals.
- As well as this new demand for support, councils say that Coronavirus has contributed to rise in costs for external and foster care placements for vulnerable children. This is helping drive the overspend, alongside increased costs for staffing to cover shortages and those self-isolating.
The CCN is calling for more government funding to help councils support families during the pandemic. It is urging the government to renew its flagship Troubled Families programme next year, which is worth £165m to help councils address these emerging family issues as a result of the pandemic. The network is also calling on the government to widen the scope of the programme with an increased pot so it can better embrace mental health support to prevent issues spiralling out of control and burdening the health service.
This must be alongside targeted investment in children’s services next year, which was seeing demand outstrip funding even before the pandemic struck.
Cllr Keith Glazier, children and young people spokesperson for the County Councils Network, said: “The emotional and financial trauma of the pandemic on families is clear to see in the referrals since the country started opening back up in the summer, with domestic abuse and neglect the two main reasons that our help is sought. Worryingly, we are also seeing a rise in mental health concerns and alcohol abuse – both of which can be attributed to the impact of Coronavirus.
“As well as an increase in referrals councils are also facing the additional costs of the pandemic, with the vast majority forecasting significant overspends on their children’s services budgets this year. This is why we urgently need the government to renew its Troubled Families programme, alongside targeted investment for children’s social care so we can give families the help and support they need,” he concluded.