Almost nine out of 10 local authorities in England overspent on children’s social care in the last financial year, as the rising number of children taken into care put extra pressure on budgets.
Analysis by The Guardian and the Local Government Association (LGA) found that 133 out of 152 councils (88%) responsible for children’s services overspent in 2017-18. Local authorities went over budget on children’s social care by an estimated £807m, by far the highest area of overspending in council budgets.
The number of children being taken into care stands at a 10-year high. Government data published in November found that there were 75,420 looked-after children in England at the end of March, up 4% on the previous year. The number has increased every year since 2008, when the total was about 60,000.
The LGA said the support necessary to keep children safe from immediate risk of harm could be extremely expensive, forcing councils to cut or end vital early intervention services which helped to prevent children from entering care in the first place.
The organisation calculated that local authorities faced a £3bn funding gap by 2025 just to maintain the current levels of service in children’s social care. It costs around £56k a year to look after a child in care.
Stuart Gallimore, the president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, told the Guardian that councils had entered a “vicious spiral” as they struggled to fund the increase in children entering the care system amid budget cuts.
“Local authorities didn’t have that [£807m] just kicking around at the bottom of the money pot, so they’ve either had to go into their reserves to pay for that or they’ve had to take it from other local government services,” he said.
“Over the course of the past ten years, while local government funding has fallen by almost a half, there has been a small rise in funding for children’s services and that is because people prioritise it – because that’s the right thing to do.
“But that comes at the cost of other council services and at the cost of the reserves that are dwindling in all councils. There is a vicious spiral in terms of being able to pay the costs of those children coming into the care system.”
Read the rest of The Guardian article here