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Children in the North of England at greater risk of entering care than those in the South

A new report finds that children in the North of England at greater risk of entering care than their Southern counterparts.

22/04/24

Children in the North of England at greater risk of entering care than those in the South

A new report shows the disproportionately high rates of children in care in the North compared to its southern counterparts.

The report, published by Health Equity North on behalf of the Child of the North All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), highlights the pressure placed on children’s services in northern regions that shoulder a greater share of a weighty economic burden as a result.

Led by Dr Davara Bennett from the University of Liverpool, the authors analysed existing data to paint a clear picture of the regional inequalities that exist within the care system in England. Comparing data by regions, the report’s authors found that if the North had experienced the same care entry rates as the South between 2019 and 2023, it would have saved at least £25 billion in lifetime social costs of children in care.

They found that in the North, the rate of children in care per 10,000 of the child population is 93, compared to 62 in the rest of England. In England generally, one in every 140 children enters care, however in Blackpool this figure rises to one in every 52 children and in Hartlepool it’s one in 63.

The North East has the highest overall care rates, followed by the North West, West Midlands and then Yorkshire and the Humber.

There were over 83,000 children in care in 2023 in England and the report warns that the risk of that number rising is high as health inequalities continue to widen and more and more families are falling into poverty, particularly in the North.

The rise in child poverty between 2015 and 2020 led to over 10,000 additional children entering care – equivalent to one in 12 care entries over the period.

The report’s authors say this regional inequality, in turn, causes a significant economic impact.

Placement costs incurred solely due to the rise in child poverty between 2015 and 2020 are estimated at £1.4 billion. It would cost £0.25 billion per year to support 250,000 children out of deep poverty by abolishing the benefit cap. It would cost £1.3 billion per year to lift a further 250,000 children out of poverty by abolishing the two-child limit.

Between 2011 and 2019, as spending on children in care increased, total spending on preventative services for children and families fell by about 25% in real terms. Over that period, cuts to adolescent services totalling £58 million led to more 16-17-year-olds over entering care – and placement costs exceeding £60 million.

Between 2015-16 and 2021-22, local authority spending on residential care more than doubled. One in 10 local authorities are now at risk of bankruptcy. For northern regions hosting disproportionate numbers of children in care, the economic burden is substantial.

The worrying findings of the report have prompted calls from Child of the North APPG members and academics for urgent action to address the inequalities in the care system.

Dr Davara Bennett, lead author of the report and Public Health, Policy & Systems at the University of Liverpool, said the report has exposed the “deeply rooted social inequalities reflected in, and exacerbated by, the child welfare system.”

“These need to be tackled head-on by policymakers. Local authorities are trapped in a cycle of ever-greater spend on children in care, at the expense of investment in effective support for families in need. The evidence shows the damage caused by cuts to prevention and failure to address the very real problem of child poverty in the North.

“There are a number of policies that, if implemented, could help reduce the number of children entering care and improve the care and support children and families receive when in need. We urge government to hear our calls for action and commit to addressing them as a priority.”

The Child of the North APPG members and report authors are calling for a range of measures to be considered by government including: policies to reduce child poverty; enhanced material support for families involved in Children’s Services; investment in prevention strategies; joint anti-racist and anti-poverty policies; more support for older children and those leaving care; strengthening the workforce and wider system; and optimising children’s social care data.

Emma Lewell-Buck MP (pictured) for South Shields and Co-Chair of the Child of the North APPG, said that as a former social worker, she experienced first-hand the immense pressure placed on children’s services in the north.

“When children and families aren’t given the right support the consequences and damage done can last a lifetime. In my region specifically, shameful levels of poverty coupled with underinvestment has led to dramatically disproportionate rises in the number of children in care, compared to the south.

“Excellent social work happens every single day, yet this report highlights how valuable opportunities to improve social care for both children, families and those who work with them are being ignored.”

The Children in Care in the North of England report also summarises evidence on ethnic inequalities in children’s chances of experiencing care in England, decreasing numbers of foster carers, shortages in children’s homes, private profiteering, education disadvantages, children’s social care workforce challenges, homelessness, and includes insights from care experienced children as well as those working within children’s services at local authority level.

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