Council funding cuts have created a shortage of safe accommodation for vulnerable children, and now “thousands of at-risk young people are being placed in care homes that are illegal, miles from their school or unregulated”, the Commons has heard.
With the number of children in care tipping a 10 year high, Housing secretary Robert Jenrick was challenged by Labour’s Stephen Morgan to “agree that responsibility for this injustice lies at the feet of his Government”.
Robert Jenrick fell back on “the most generous settlement for local government for a decade” that provide a 4.4% real- terms increase in funding for local government – and included a £1bn grant for social care.
But he acknowledged “important issues that we need to take forward” including issues with supported housing that were being taken forward.
Labour’s John Spellar said that while the settlement offered some relief, children’s care was in crisis and councils needed to know extra funding was coming in every year of the present Parliament – from a government willing to work with councils to ensure that funding settlements reflect the escalating demand for, and cost of, such services.
Jenrick confirmed the social care grant “will continue every year”.
New stats show that the number of children in care has risen by 28% in the past decade, with the LGA saying the system was close breaking point.
That a huge increase in demand is combining with funding shortages to put immense pressure on the ability of councils to support vulnerable children and young people, and provide the early help that can stop children and families reaching crisis point in the first place.
The stats show that 78,150 children are now in care – up from 75,370 in 2018.
A Tory manifesto promise to review of the children’s social care system is said by the LGA to be great opportunity for work with councils and partners, such as schools, social workers and foster carers to improve the system.
And this collaboration is “vital” if the promised review is to deliver change where it is most needed amid this unprecedented demand.
The LGA sees securing the financial sustainability of services Central as central to this review, being the only way councils can deliver their legal duties, protect the preventative services which support families before they reach crisis point and improve the lives of children and families.
Councils were forced to overspend on their children’s social care budgets by almost £800m last year, despite allocating more money than the previous year to try to keep up with demand.
According to the latest data:
• Councils have seen a 53% increase in children on child protection plans – an additional 18,160 children – in the past decade
• In the past decade, there has been a 139% increase in serious cases, where the council believes a child may be suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm – an additional 117,070 cases (up to 201,170)
• The age of children in care has been steadily increasing over the past five years. Young people over 10 years old account for 63% of all in care, with teenagers being six times more likely than younger children to be living in residential or secure children’s homes
Cllr Judith Blake, chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People board, said any funding commitment for children’s social care should also enable councils to fully support kinship carers – who provide vital care for children often outside the formal care system, and care leavers, making sure that these young people get the same opportunities as their peers.
She said: “These figures show the sheer scale of the unprecedented demand pressures on children’s services and the care system this decade.
“This is unsustainable. Councils want to make sure that children can get the best, rather than just get by, and that means investing in the right services to reach them at the right time,
“Councils need to be given a seat at the table for the care system review, alongside children, families and partners, to make sure this looks at what really matters and what can really make a difference.
“It needs to ensure that children’s services are fully funded and councils can not only support those children who are in care, but provide the early intervention and prevention support that can stop children and families reaching crisis point in the first place,” she said.