The increasing number of children being taken into care will have cost the taxpayer at least an additional £226 million in the current financial year, according to the Local Government Association.
The sum is a combination of extra court costs and the increased bill for the number of children in council care. Council leaders want the government to rethink how the care system is funded and warn the sharp increase in costs could threaten the future of other council services intended to help families.
Figures on care referrals released yesterday by Cafcass show the number is stabilising at a higher level, following the court case into the death of baby Peter.
The Local Government Association estimates 2009/10 will see an overall rise of 32% in the number of care applications going through the courts, equivalent to an extra £39million. Those costs include the resources absorbed in preparation and support, with social workers required to dedicate significant time to the process.
There has also been a rise in the number of children in local authority care. The number entering the care system for the first time went up by 9% last year, adding around £187 million to the cost of the care population.
Council leaders warn the situation is not sustainable in the long-term, and fear schemes meant to prevent family break-up and to support children from poorer backgrounds may be sacrificed in order to foot the bill for a larger care population.
Councillor Shireen Ritchie, who chairs the Local Government Association's Children and Young People Board, said that the system which looks after children in care was never designed to deal with the increase in numbers experienced in the last year.
"There is no question of money being a factor in deciding how a vulnerable child is cared for. Wherever a child is identified as being in danger, councils and the courts will take them out of the family home if that is the best way of protecting them", Cllr Ritchie said.
"It would be wrong to pretend that there is no cost involved in the changing attitudes to child protection. There is a price to be paid, particularly if it means a reduction in the help and support councils can offer to other families.
"There have been well-publicised arguments about whether social services should step in sooner and more frequently where children are thought to be at risk. If it is decided that, as a nation, we must play a bigger role in how families raise their children there will have to be a debate about how to fund and manage a system which can do this properly."