Analysis by the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, has revealed that in 2015-16 75% of councils exceeded their children’s social care budgets by a total of £605m.
At the same time, the LGA said, councils are dealing with an unprecedented surge in demand for children’s social care support, with a 140% increase in child protection inquiries in the past 10 years.
The LGA analysis also highlighted the particular shortfall facing early intervention work as a result of a £500m cut in government funding since 2013, with further projected cuts of £183m by 2020, which will represent a 40% overall reduction.
“The reality is that services for the care and protection of vulnerable children are now, in many areas, being pushed to breaking point,” said Richard Watts, the chair of the LGA’s children and young people board.
“Councils have done everything they can to respond to the growing financial crisis in children’s social care, including reducing costs where they can and finding new ways of working. However, they are at the point where there are very few savings left to find without having a real and lasting impact upon crucial services that many children and families across the country desperately rely on.”
According to Watts, children’s services are facing a £2bn funding gap by 2020, with early intervention at greatest risk as councils struggle to deal with growing numbers of children and families already at crisis point.
He said: “There is no question that early intervention can help to limit the need for children to enter the social care system, lay the groundwork for improved performance at school and even help to ease future pressure on adult social care by reducing the pressure on services for vulnerable adults.
“However, cuts to the early intervention grant have exacerbated a difficult situation where councils cannot afford to withdraw services for children in immediate need of protection to invest in early help instead.”
More than 170,000 children were subject to child protection inquiries in 2015-16, compared with 71,800 in 2005-06, and the number of children on child protection plans increased by almost 24,000 over the same period.
In the face of growing demand and dwindling budgets, the LGA says councils have been forced to make tough choices – 365 children’s centres and 603 youth centres have closed since 2012.
According to the government, spending on children’s social care has gone up by about £530m since 2010-11 to nearly £8bn last year.
“Every single child should receive the same high-quality care, support and protection, no matter where they live,” a government spokesperson said. “Councils will receive more than £200bn for local services, including children’s social care, up to 2020. This is part of a historic four-year settlement which means councils can plan ahead with certainty.
“Councils are doing excellent work, spending nearly £8bn in total last year on children’s social care, but we want to help them make sure they do even more. That’s why we set up the £200m children’s social care innovation programme to help them develop new and better ways of delivering these services.”