Councils have expressed concern at a potential spike in referrals to children’s social services for support, after it emerged that the number of children referred fell by almost a fifth during the height of the COVID-19 lockdown between April and June.
The Local Government Association said children’s social care teams had received 41,190 referrals between April and June – around 18% lower than the same period over each of the past three years.
A total of 1,640 children started to be looked after as a result over the same period – down a third on the same period over each of the past three years.
The LGA said councils had deep concerns about falling referrals. “They are working with their partners and communities to try to identify children who may be at risk and putting in place plans to ensure that if referrals spike when children return to school this week, they are able to ensure children and families get the right help quickly.”
It also warned that funding pressures and increased demand for child protection services prior to the pandemic had led to councils being forced to scale back or cut universal and early help services altogether.
The LGA called on the Government to use the forthcoming Spending Review to ensure councils have long-term, sustainable funding to invest in preventative, universal and early help services..
Cllr Judith Blake, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “The impacts of the pandemic will be far reaching for some children, young people and their families. As this becomes clearer, more children and their families are likely to need support and councils expect to see a significant rise in referrals to children’s social care and demand for wider children’s support services.
“Some children and their families will need significant interventions, but others will just need some extra help to get through a difficult period. It will be essential that the right services can be there to support them and help them cope.
“It is vital that councils have the funding they need to support children, young people and families during the current phase of the crisis and beyond. Investment in crucial preventative services would mean help can be available when it is first needed and not when families and young people reach crisis point.”