Number of children in care grows 28%, figures reveal

The number of children in care has risen by 28% in the past decade, Local Government Association (LGA) figures show. 

The association argues councils’ ability to support vulnerable children and young people is reaching breaking point due to increased demand combined with funding shortages.

Figures show 78,150 children are now in care, up from 75,370 in 2018. There were 60,900 children in care in 2009.

Councils have seen a 53% increase in children on child protection plans – an additional 18,160 children – in the past decade. There has been a 139% rise in serious case where the local authority believes a child may be suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm, an additional 117,070 cases (up to 201,170), over the past ten years.

The LGA figures show the age of children in care has been steadily increasing over the past five years. Young people over 10 years old account for 63% of all in care, with teenagers being six times more likely than younger children to be living in residential or secure children’s homes, which is more expensive than foster care.

Councillor Judith Blake, chair of the LGA’s children and young people board, said: ‘These figures show the sheer scale of the unprecedented demand pressures on children’s services and the care system this decade.

‘This is unsustainable. 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.’

The government plans to review the children’s social care system, but Blake said councils needed to be given a seat at the table, alongside children, families and partners.

She said: ‘It needs to ensure that children’s services are fully funded and councils can not only support those children who are in care, but provide the early intervention and prevention support that can stop children and families reaching crisis point in the first place.’

The LGA said councils were forced to overspend on their children’s social care budgets by almost £800m last year. It said any funding commitment should also enable local authorities to support kinship carers, who provide vital care for children often outside the formal care system, and care leavers, making sure young people get the same opportunities as their peers, the LGA said.

As well as a review the government has pledged an extra £1.5m to child and adult social services.