More than 600 vulnerable young people a day referred to councils after lockdown
Local authorities warn of an ‘invisible crisis’ as they also see an increase in demand for mental health support and family services during the pandemic.
As many as 630 vulnerable young people a day were being referred to councils’ children’s services in the months after the first lockdown, a new survey by the County Councils Network revealed.
Councils say they 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.
The survey also revealed that nine in ten councils had projected an overspend on their budgets this year.
Council leaders say they are now seeing the effects of an ‘invisible crisis’ over the spring, illustrating the emotional and financial impacts of the virus. 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 compared to the spring.
Local authorities said that in particular they have seen demand for family services increase since the pandemic began, illustrating the emotional and financial impacts of the virus on households. The survey showed that domestic abuse and neglect were the two main reason for referrals to children’s services over the lockdown and summer months.
However, 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, the survey showed.
As well as this new demand for support, councils say that the pandemic 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
In total, nine out of 10 councils surveyed said they were projecting an overspend on their children’s social care budget this year, which is for support and interventions for vulnerable young people.
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.
A separate survey from the CCN revealed just 35% of councils will be able to protect their children’s services if there is no extra funding for local authorities in the Spending Review, with one in five – 27% – saying they would have to reduce support for vulnerable children ‘moderately or severely’.
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.”