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 and should prompt a rethink about how we fund the care system, council leaders said today, as they warned the climb could threaten the future of other council services intended to help all families. The sum is a combination of extra court costs and the increased bill for the number of children in council care.
The latest official figures on care referrals from Cafcass (the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) show the number is stabilising at a higher level, following the court case into the death of Peter Connelly.
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% during 2008 / 09, and can be expected to show an even sharper increase during the current year. That rise of 9% added 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.
The LGA is warning that if, as a nation, it is decided the state will have to intervene more often and at an earlier stage in the care of children there will have to be a detailed look at how to produce a system which can do that effectively.
Cllr Shireen Ritchie, who chairs the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said:
“The system which looks after children in care is feeling the strain – it was never designed to deal with the increase in numbers which we have 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.
“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.”
Perhaps someone somewhere will take note before its too late...Gwenda are you listening?