Recession putting children at risk as record numbers in care

the recession is causing family break-ups and putting record numbers of children in care, a charity has warned.

A total of 61,550 children are in care in England, the highest number in living memory, as the social cost of the economic crisis is laid bare.

In the East Riding the number of children in care is at an all-time high, placing a massive burden on already faltering local authority finances.

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The strain on East Riding Council’s fostering service caused a £679,000 overspend in 2011-12, and forced the council to dip into other service budgets to fund additional staff in its adoption service.

A report reveals that the council, which needs to save £43m over the next three years, will have to continue the raid on other service coffers to maintain staffing levels amid “significant budget pressures”.

The report also said increasing numbers of children were being accommodated because they were “at risk of significant harm”.

Dave Glenville, the council’s fostering team leader, said: “I think there are a number of reasons (for the increase). There are economic factors – more people are out of work and there are a lack of opportunities for families to break out of the cycle.

“Most of the children have been exposed to inappropriate behaviour, whether that’s drug misuse or domestic violence, and their parenting capacity is questioned.

“A lot of young parents are not able to give their children the attention they need or don’t understand what the children need. There will be some signs that they genuinely can’t cope because they are overwhelmed with their own problems.”

The cost of caring for children has also shot up because of a lack of capacity and the number of registered carers, which means the council has to fund more expensive placements in the independent and private sectors.

The average cost of an independent placement was £800 a week last year, varying from £500 a week for a baby up to £1,300 a week for a “very challenging teenager”.

There are currently 129 fostering households in the East Riding, including 106 mainstream carers and 23 who are family or friends of the child.

As of August 1, 88 per cent of the children looked after by the council were in foster placements with the remainder in care homes and some aged 17 in supported lodgings.

According to latest estimates from the UK’s leading fostering charity, the Fostering Network, there is a national shortage of 10,000 foster carers in the UK, about 8,400 of which are needed in England.

A spokesman said: “The Baby P tragedy led to a more risk averse approach from social workers so that they were more inclined to refer a child to the children’s courts and kick-start care proceedings.

“And the feedback we are getting from many local authorities is that the recession is leading to more families facing more difficulties and more pressure and that is pushing them over the edge.”

A study by the charity in 2009 put the cost of foster care in the UK at £1.35bn – but said a further £580m was needed to fund services and carers properly.

The spokesman said: “Our message to local authorities and government is that fostering is drastically underfunded if you look at the numbers of children coming into care and the needs of the fostering workforce.”

One of the biggest rises of children at risk in the East Riding has been among those aged up to four, with 99 children in this group in care at the end of July, a third higher than in 2006.

Overall, there were 324 children aged up to 17 in care in the borough at the end of last month.

The council is hosting an information event for prospective foster carers at Tickton Grange, near Beverley, on Tuesday, September 16, from 6pm. Anyone who would like to register their interest can call 01482 396644.