Councils were forced to overspend on their children’s social care budgets by nearly £800 million last year to try and keep up with demand, the representative body, the Local Government Association (LGA), has revealed.
But local government leaders say the number of councils spending more than they budgeted for indicates the immense pressure they are under to support vulnerable children and young people, and the urgent need for the Spending Round to plug the £1.4 billion funding gap facing these services next year.
Analysis of new figures by the LGA shows that councils budgeted an additional £542 million in 2018-19 for children’s social care compared with 2017-18, representing a 6.8% increase.
Yet despite this and trying to protect children’s social care budgets by diverting cash from other local services, councils had to spend £770 million more than they planned.
Significant government funding cuts, soaring demand for child protection services and increasing costs mean that budgets cannot keep up.
Over the past decade the proportion of children being supported on child protection plans has risen by 84%, with an additional 15,920 children in care.
Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, councillor Anntoinette Bramble, said: “Funding pressures coinciding with huge increases in demand mean it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to [invest in the right services at the right time].
“Up to 1,796 referrals are made to council children’s social services every day ─ more than one referral a minute.”
Councils up and down the country have been forced to find savings from non-statutory or discretionary budgets, including valuable early intervention and prevention support that can stop children and families reaching crisis point, she said.
“This is not sustainable,” she insisted.
The analysis comes as the Children Society’s annual report* found that a quarter of a million children in the UK are unhappy, and that experience of financial strain or poverty in childhood is linked to poorer wellbeing by the age of 14.
Councillor Bramble said that councils strive to make sure that every child gets the best start and is able to go on and live a healthy, safe and prosperous life, despite seeing more than 560 cases of children with mental health conditions every day – an increase of more than 50% in just four years.
“Statutory PSHE classes in all secondary schools from 2020 will go some way to teach children and young people the importance of mental health, emotional wellbeing and resilience, as well as addressing issues such as bullying and online harms,” she said.
“However, significant funding pressures in children’s services and public health mean many councils are struggling to provide the support young people so desperately need.
“They are also being forced to cut some of the vital early intervention services, including youth services and school nurses, which can support children with low level mental health issues and avoid more serious problems in later life.”
The government had to recognise the importance of funding these services properly in the next spending review, she said.
*The Good Childhood Report 2019. A report prepare by the Children Society’s, 2019.