Poor housing heightens pressure on council child protection services

An LGA poll of lead councillors sees 70% citing poor housing among factors in rising child-protection workload.

Homeless child in a doorway

Poor housing is among key factors identified by the LGA as heightening pressure on council children protection services – with 88 children now taken into care every day in England alone.

And sums being switched to child care in turn impact on the capacity of councils to tackle housing issues.

The LGA is calling for children’s services to be fully funded alongside investment in services that prevent children reaching that point in the first place and help families stay together and thrive.

“If councils are to give children and families the help they need and deserve, it is vital they are fully funded. This is not just children’s services, but the breadth of support councils can provide, from public health to housing,” said Cllr Judith Blake, chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board

Councils have seen a 53% increase in children on child-protection plans – an additional 18,160 children – in the past decade, while 88 children are now taken into care every day to keep them safe.

With more children being referred for urgent child protection support, councils are increasingly having to divert cash away from early intervention services – which can tackle problems for children at risk before they get worse – into the services that protect children at risk of immediate harm.

In an LGA poll of children’s services of lead councillors, 70% said poor housing, poverty, and debt played a part.

Of the councillors surveyed, 64% said the number of children and young people receiving child protection support or being taken into care has increased “to a great extent” since 2015/16.

The online survey between February and March this year was sent to all lead members for children’s services in England.

Of the 152 councils, 76 councils responded.

London boroughs represented the lowest proportion of responses, and shire counties the highest.

The survey showed that, in 2015/16, 59% of councils had made savings that had impacted on their children’s social care budgets to a significant degree – rising to 57% in 2016/17 and 63% in 2017/18.

But 64% of lead members for children’s services said their council’s 2018/19 budget for children’s social care was insufficient to meet actual levels of spending with the risk posed by shortfall put at being ‘severe/significant’, according to 47%.

Based on current funding levels, lead members’ confidence in the sufficiency of their council’s budget to deliver all its desired children’s services was considerably lower for 2021/22 than for 2019/20 – 24% were ‘very confident’ or ‘fairly confident’ with regards to 2021/22, whereas the proportion was 61% for 2019/20.

Some 62% of lead members who indicated a ‘significant’ or ‘moderate’ increase in demand for looked-after children and/or child-protection-plan services in the next five years felt their council would not have adequate resources to cope with this increase without cutting services.

A decrease was shown in lead members’ confidence in their council’s ability to meet five key duties: child protection, children in need, children leaving care, and both targeted and universal early help – over the next three years.

As an example, confidence in the council’s ability to provide ‘a sufficient range of targeted early help provision’ dropped by 33% between 2019/20 and 2021/22.

And 46% of lead members for children’s services were either ‘fairly pessimistic’ or ‘very pessimistic’ about the financial state of children’s services in their area over the next 12 months, whereas 32% were ‘fairly optimistic’ and just 1% ‘very optimistic’.

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