Child social care services being 'pushed to breaking point', warn councils

Local councils face £2 billion funding gap in next three years, the Local Government Association says

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The Independent Online

Social care services for children are being “pushed to breaking point” with a £2 billion funding gap expected to open by 2020, councils have warned

New analysis by the Local Government Association reveals pressures facing children’s services are rapidly becoming unsustainable, prompting calls for all political parties to ensure vulnerable children get appropriate support and protection.

An unprecedented surge in demand for support over recent years has led to more than 170,000 children being subject to child protection enquiries in 2015/16, compared to 71,800 in 2005/06 – a 140 per cent increase in just 10 years.

The number of children on formal child protection plans meanwhile increased by almost 24,000 over the same period.

Local government leaders are now calling on all political parties ahead of the General Election to commit to the life chances of children and young people by acting urgently to address the funding gap, which they say will continue to grow unless action is taken to reduce the number of families relying on the children’s social care system for support.

 “Services caring for and protecting vulnerable children are now, in many areas, being pushed to breaking point," said councillor Richard Watts, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board. 

"Ahead of the General Election all political parties must commit to fully funding children’s social care to ensure vulnerable children get the appropriate support and protection they need."

He added: “Councils are committed to providing the best possible support to vulnerable children and their families, but the demand for children’s social care services has more than doubled and is stretching local authority resources.”

The children’s social care system protects those children at serious risk of harm and works to support families to stay together when they’re having difficulties.

It also provides care for children with disabilities and steps in to help when families experience a crisis such as the hospitalisation of a parent.

The LGA warned that ongoing reductions to local authority budgets are forcing many areas to make extremely difficult decisions about how to allocate “increasingly scarce” resources.

These are often taken up by the provision of urgent support for the rising numbers of children and families already at crisis point, it said. 

Mr Watts said that councils have had to reduce costs to the point where they are affected “crucial” services for children and families, and that there were  few savings left that can be made before it could have a “real and lasting” impact.

“With councils facing a £2 billion funding gap for children’s services in the next three years they have responded by reducing costs and finding new ways to deliver services. But there are very few savings left to find without having a real and lasting impact upon crucial services that many children and families across the country desperately rely on,” he added.

“Early intervention can help to limit the need for children to enter the social care system, lay the groundwork for improved performance at school and even help to ease future pressure on adult social care by reducing the pressure on services for vulnerable adults. However councils are in a difficult situation where they are struggling to invest in this vital early help and support.”