Warning over children's care 'crisis' amid claims of councils overspend reaching £770m

Councils overspent on childrens social care budgets by nearly 800m last year, the Local Government Association claims
Councils overspent on childrens social care budgets by nearly 800m last year, the Local Government Association claims

Councils have been forced to overspend nearly £800m on children’s social care, new analysis suggests, amid warnings that overstretched budgets cannot keep pace with rising demand.

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The Local Government Association has carried out an analysis of budgets over the past year, with one authority in Yorkshire warning systems are “buckling” under the pressure.

Despite councils ploughing an additional £542m into children’s social care, and diverting cash from other services to plug a gap, the body warns today over a picture of mounting concern as it found overspends in the region of £770m.

Significant funding cuts, soaring demand for child protection services and rising costs to give children the support they need, it warns, means that local council budgets are falling far short.

Calling for investment in the next Spending Round, the LGA warns that action must be taken urgently to plug a projected funding gap of £1.4bn for next year.

“Councils want to make sure that children can get the best, rather than just get by, and that means investing in the right services to reach them at the right time,” said Coun Anntoinette Bramble, chairwoman of the LGA’s children and young people board.

“Funding pressures coinciding with huge increases in demand mean it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to do that.”

A critical service

Children’s social care is critical in supporting families before they reach crisis point, local government leaders warn, calling for pledges of protection over a sustainability of services.

The number of councils struggling to keep pace is demonstrative of the “immense pressure” they face, the LGA warns.

“In order to keep children at most risk safe, councils up and down the country have been forced to find savings from non-statutory or discretionary budgets, which includes valuable early intervention and prevention support that can stop children and families reaching crisis point,” said Coun Bramble. “This is not sustainable.”

The last decade has seen an 84 per cent increase in children being supported on child protection plans, the LGA warns, with an additional 15,920 children in care.

As demand for urgent child protection services has grown, it adds, councils have been forced to divert money away from services that support children and families earlier, and towards services that protect those children at most immediate risk of harm.

Yorkshire concern

The challenge is one repeatedly raised by a number of authorities in Yorkshire, with Leeds City Council revealing earlier this year that budgets for adult and children’s social care now account for 65 per cent of its net spend.

Executive member for children’s services at North Yorkshire County Council, Coun Janet Sanderson, said children and adult’s social care, alongside special educational needs and disabilities, is one of the funding pressures authorities face.

“Government needs to recognise that we, along with all other councils, are experiencing unprecedented demand in these areas,” she said.

“It is therefore vital these pressures are addressed in a properly funded settlement to help councils, which have felt the full effect of austerity, continue to protect the most vulnerable in society.”

The authority, arguing there are “clear imbalances” on per head funding when comparing Inner London, urban areas and shire counties, is also seeking to press its case over the greater cost of delivering services in a rural context.

These comments are echoed by David Williams, chairman elect of the County Councils Network as he warns today over mounting pressures.

Writing in this newspaper, he claims county authorities such as North Yorkshire and East Riding are getting a “raw deal” as they face rising demand yet the greatest underfunding.

Government response

The Government maintains it is working closely with authority and the children’s social care sector to develop an understanding of costs and pressures to decide core funding.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We want every child to have the best start in life, with the opportunities and the stability to fulfil their potential.

"t is essential that we all strive to achieve the highest standard of services for our most vulnerable children.

"That is why we’re putting an extra £410m into social care this year, including children’s – alongside £84m over five years to keep more children at home with their families safely, to improve the support provided to vulnerable children and their families and enable more children to stay at home thriving in stable family environments.”