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Serious child-related incidents rise by 20% in last year

There has been a 20% rise in the number of serious child-related incidents reported by councils in the last year, according to figures published by The Local Government Association.

A total of 536 serious incident notifications were made in England during 2020/21, up 87 or 19 per cent on the 449 incidents in 2019/20. There were 379 incidents five years ago in 2015/16 meaning the number of serious notifications has risen by 41 per cent in five years.

Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “Supporting and protecting vulnerable children is one of the most important roles played by councils who want to ensure all children are safe, loved and thrive, so this rise in serious incident notifications is particularly harrowing and a huge cause for concern.

“The pandemic has put extra pressure on families, particularly those living in difficult circumstances, which can fuel harmful acts of abuse or neglect on children. Councils have been working hard with their partners to identify this and provide the help children need, but it is vital that children’s social care services are funded to meet this need,” she added.

The highest proportion of serious incident notifications in 2020/21 continues to be for children aged under one, with 191 incidents.

The number of notices relating to child deaths increased by 19 per cent, from 188 to 223.

The LGA is extremely concerned about children’s safety amid extra pressures on families during the pandemic, with acts of abuse more likely to go unseen “behind closed doors” during successive lockdowns.

Local authorities have tried to protect budgets for services designed to protect children despite funding pressures. Yet despite these efforts, soaring demand for safeguarding services means councils still overspent their children’s social care budgets by £832 million in 2019/20. 

The LGA, which represents councils in England and Wales, believes the independent review of children’s social care is a vital opportunity to help ensure sufficient resources are available to give all families and children the support they need and deserve.

Furthermore, the forthcoming Spending Review provides an opportunity to invest further in children’s social care. This should include providing sufficient funding for preventative and early-help services to help avoid situations escalating into acts of abuse and harm on children and young people. The LGA has repeated its call for the £1.7 billion removed from the Early Intervention Grant since 2010 to be reinstated.

The LGA is urging a cross-Whitehall strategy that puts children and young people at the heart of recovery and ensures local safety nets are properly resourced and well organised.

Cllr Anntoinette Bramble said: “The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care has already identified that there is no situation in the current system where we will not need to spend more to keep children safe. The government must heed this warning.”

“We also want to work with government to produce a cross-Whitehall strategy for children and young people, clearly articulating the role that all departments will play in keeping children safe and well. It is only by working together that we can effectively safeguard our most vulnerable young people,” she added.

Vice President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services Steve Crocker said: “This latest data on serious incident notifications over the past year is concerning but not surprising to local authorities whose staff are on the front line of child protection investigations. Sadly, the data illustrates the impact of the pandemic on the most vulnerable children and young people and their families. For local authorities, protecting children and young people from harm is our most important role and we work with a range of partners to do this. The highest proportion of serious incident notifications continues to be for children under one; where safeguarding concerns arise about babies and very young children, their inability to tell us what has happened to them and how they feel adds an extra layer of complexity. Disrupted access to the formal and informal networks that children and families rely on, from health visitors to grandparents, have only heightened these challenges.

“Whilst local systems to support children and families remained in place throughout previous lockdowns, the challenges and pressures on their lives have been intensified. The past 18 months has highlighted a number of longstanding societal issues including ‘hidden harms,’ and it is clear that the safety and wellbeing of children and young people needs to be much higher in national planning and recovery.

“The forthcoming Spending Review provides a real opportunity to invest in local authority children’s services. The importance of being ambitious for children cannot be overstated. We must take a long-term view to investing in their lives so that we can provide support earlier, rather than intervening when a family has reached crisis point. ADCS continues to call for a vision for childhood, from the early years through school and adolescence to adulthood. This must be underpinned by a coherent and strategic cross-departmental long-term plan and resources, providing the connectivity and commitment at the national level that delivers for children,” he concluded.

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