Number of children in care could reach almost 100,000 by 2025, council leaders warn

Council leaders call for an ‘unrelenting’ focus on keeping families together as new analysis suggests the number of vulnerable children being placed in council care could reach almost 100,000 by the middle of the decade – up from 69,000 in 2015.

23/11/21

Number of children in care could reach almost 100,000 by 2025, council leaders warn

The County Councils Network (CCN) warns that unless current trends are addressed through major reforms and investment, local authorities in England could be required to spend £3.6bn a year more in 2025 on children in care compared to 2015.

Speaking at the group’s annual conference this week, CCN Chairman Cllr Tim Oliver will told delegates that too many vulnerable children are being placed in expensive residential care settings due to an insufficient number of alternatives, such as foster carers. Councils are also having to reduce preventative services, particularly for those most in risk of entering the care system.

Oliver called for an ‘unrelenting’ focus on preventing family breakdown and supporting them to stay together, where it is safe to do so, as well as a systemic reform of the way local public services work together to reduce the number children entering the care system, and crucially, the number of young people staying in care for longer.

The CCN is also warning that the reliance on expensive care placements is placing unprecedented pressure on local authority budgets, with the costs of supporting children in the care of local authorities set to consume 60% of their children’s services budgets by 2025.

Alongside a reliance on residential places, councils have faced what Oliver called a ‘vicious cycle’, where local authorities have had to reduce preventative services and support to families in crisis where a child is at risk of requiring care services, due to funding pressures.

The data comes from emerging findings from a major study into the future of children’s services by the consultants Newton.

The new data shows the number of children in care could rise to 95,000 by 2025, a 36% increase from 2015. This could mean councils’ spend on children in care rises from £3.8bn in 2015 to £7.4bn in 2025. As a proportion of their children and family budgets, spending on children in care could rise to 59% of their total by the middle of the decade.

Residential care – the most expensive form of care – was identified as a key issue in the data. The costs of an average weekly residential placement have increased from £2,915 per week in 2014 to £4,165 in 2020, which was said to be one of the factors in local authorities overspending on their children’s services budgets. Separate figures also showed that many local authorities have taken the decision to reduce preventative services by £436m (18%) since 2015, due to funding pressures.

“Protecting young people from serious harm is one of the most important roles for a council, and this analysis shows the unprecedented pressure that rising numbers of children in care will place on our budgets by the middle of this decade,” Cllr Tim Oliver, Chairman of the County Councils Network said.

“Councils are in a vicious cycle: due to financial pressures local authorities have had to reduce preventative services to focus on intervention in crisis situations, alongside facing a lack of alternative solutions, such as foster care.

“The reality is that there are too many vulnerable children being placed in expensive residential care settings and staying in the care system for longer. With the situation becoming unsustainable, we need additional funding and an unrelenting focus on preventing family breakdown and keeping families together, alongside systemic reform of how councils work with their public sector partners to achieve these aims.”

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