Severe funding shortages and huge demand pressures mean councils were forced to overspend on their children’s social care budgets by nearly £800 million last year in order to try and keep children safe, the Local Government Association reveals today.
Local government leaders say the number of councils spending more than they budgeted for indicates the immense pressure they are under to support vulnerable children and young people, and the urgent need for the Spending Round to plug the £1.4 billion funding gap facing children’s services next year.
Councils are in a unique position of being able to make the real and effective change needed locally that will ultimately help to solve some of the biggest problems the nation is facing and changing the lives of their communities.
By securing the sustainability of children’s social care services, the Government can ensure councils can deliver their legal duties, protect the preventative services which support families before they reach crisis point and improve the lives of children and families.
Analysis of new figures by the LGA shows that councils budgeted an additional £542 million in 2018/19 for children’s social care. Despite this – and trying to protect children’s social care budgets by diverting cash from other local services – councils had to spend £770 million more than they planned.
Significant government funding cuts, soaring demand for child protection services and increasing costs to give children the support they need mean that budgets cannot keep up.
This overspend also illustrates the concerns raised by MPs on both the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee and the Public Accounts Committee that current funding levels for local services are unsustainable.
The last decade has seen an 84 per cent increase in children being supported on child protection plans, and an additional 15,920 children in care.
As demand for urgent child protection services has grown, councils have been forced to divert money away from services that support children and families earlier, and towards services that protect those children at most immediate risk of harm.
Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, said:
“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.
“Funding pressures coinciding with huge increases in demand mean it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to do that.
“Up to 1,796 referrals are made to council children’s social services every day – more than one referral a minute.
“In order to keep children at most risk safe, councils up and down the country have been forced to find savings from non-statutory or discretionary budgets, which includes valuable early intervention and prevention support that can stop children and families reaching crisis point. This is not sustainable.
“It is therefore vital that the Government uses the upcoming Spending Round to fully fund the demand on children’s services next year to allow councils to provide the vital support that children and families rely on.”