Councils have overspent on children’s social care budgets by more than £3bn in the past five years, analysis by the Local Government Association (LGA) has revealed.
It is calling on the government to use its forthcoming review of the children’s social care system to work with councils to understand what is driving demand.
There are more than 52,000 children subject to a child protection plan – an increase of 53% since 2010. The number of children in care (78,150) has increased by 28% in the past decade.
This rise has coincided with reductions in central government funding for councils, the association said, as money was being diverted from early intervention and preventative measures, which help families and young people before they reach crisis point, into services to protect those at immediate risk.
Councils spent 25% less on children’s centres in 2017/18 compared with 2014/15.
Analysis showed budgets for children’s social care has risen by an average of more than £600m a year over the past five years. More than eight in 10 councils were forced to spend over £800m than planned on children’s social care last year.
Demand and cost pressures meant councils overspent by £3.2bn over a five-year period.
The government has pledged an extra £1.5bn to child and adult social services.
While the additional money has been welcomed, the LGA said a long-term, sustainable funding solution for children’s services was needed.
Cllr Judith Blake, chair of the LGA’s children and young people board, said: ‘These figures show the unprecedented demand pressures facing children’s services and the care system.
‘Councils need to play a lead role in the government’s review of the care system alongside children, families and partners, to make sure it looks at what really matters and what can really make a difference.
‘A long-term sustainable funding solution would enable councils to protect children at immediate risk of harm while also supporting early help to prevent problems escalating in the first place.’
Commenting on the analysis, Jenny Coles, Association of Directors of Children’s Services vice president, said: ‘That local authorities across the country are overspending on their children’s services should come as no surprise; it’s a symptom of the chronic underfunding of local government and children’s services at a time when more children and families need help and support. This is a false economy and is only storing up human and financial costs for the future.’