Children’s social care referrals grow 19%

Jenny Coles, ADCS president

The number of referrals to children’s social care has increased by 19% to 642,980 since 2008, research has revealed.

For over a decade the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) has collected both qualitative and quantitative data from local authorities to better understand changes in demand for, and provision of, children’s social care and associated services.

Its report draws together survey responses from local authorities in England, covering 89% of the country’s children and young people population.

The ages of children receiving social care support has changed over the years, the data found. ‘The age profile of children becoming subjects of a child protection plan has continued to shift towards older children,’ it said.

Research showed 3.9% of children starting, and 4.7% of people subject of a child protection plan at 31 March 2020 were aged 16 and over compared to 2.9% in 2013, and 4.3% two years ago.

‘The number of children and young people aged 16-17 who have started to be looked after in 2019/20 continues to increase year-on-year,’ the document said. ‘In the 123 authorities providing valid data, the proportion of under 1s and 1 to 4 age groups has remained fairly steady with increases in the 5-9 and 16 and over age groups.’

As of 31 March 2020, there were an estimated 2.5 million initial contacts received by local authorities in 2019/20, a rise of 5% in the past two years, while the number of children subject to child protection plans has grown 76% since 2008.

In 2019, it was estimated that children’s social care was facing a £3.1bn funding gap by March 2025, according to the Local Government Association.

ADCS, which estimates £824m will be required just for children’s services to ‘stay still’, also captured the impact of the pandemic.

In the six months up to 30 September 2020, it is estimated 81,900 children were in care, an increase of 34% in 12 years and up 6% since 2018/19.

There were also 284,400 referrals to children’s social care and a 4% rise in young people who were subjects of child protection plans compared to the same period last year.

‘The government must provide the sector with a sustainable, equitable and long-term financial settlement that enables children to thrive, not just survive in the wake of the pandemic by supporting them early. We are all committed to making this a country that works for all children, we urgently need the backing of government to make this happen,’ said Jenny Coles, ADCS president.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: ‘Supporting and protecting vulnerable families has been at the heart of our response throughout this pandemic, which is why we have kept schools, nurseries and colleges open to vulnerable children including those with social workers.

‘We’ve invested millions in frontline charities that are directly supporting these children and our independent review of children’s social care will look at ways to improve existing support for the most vulnerable.

‘Our data shows there has been no discernable spike in referrals to children’s social care services between April 2020 and January 2021, compared to the three years prior, but the department continues to monitor these pressures during the pandemic.’