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Huge demand for urgent children's services diverts resources away from early intervention, say councils

Councils in England overspent on children’ services by £832m in 2019-20, the Local Government Association has said.

Its analysis of the impact of “soaring demand” indicated that a sharp rise in the need for urgent child protection services had forced councils to divert resources there from early intervention and prevention, which the LGA said could help families and young people before they reach crisis point.

Instead, universal and early help services, such as children’s centres and youth services, were being cut so priority could be given to looked-after children and child protection services.

According to the LGA, 130 of the 151 councils with children’s services responsibilities overspent, despite budgets increasing in 2019-20 by £535m.

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It said that the number of Section 47 enquiries - made when there is reasonable cause to suspect a child is suffering, or at risk of, significant harm - increased from 89,300 in 2010 to 201,000 in 2020  and over the same period the number of children in care increased from 64,470 to 80,080 in 2020.

The LGA said the government-commissioned independent review of the care system must include a long-term sustainable funding solution to protect children at risk of harm.

It also called for reinstatement of the £1.7bn removed from the Early Intervention Grant since 2010.

Anntoinette Bramble, chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “Councils stand ready to work with government to ensure no child is left behind as we recover from the pandemic.

“The demand on children’s social care services is unsustainable. Councils have increased their budgets for children’s services by diverting funds from other areas but due to spiralling demand for support they are still overspending and fear this will continue as pent-up demand due to the pandemic becomes clearer.”

Cllr Bramble said it was vital children’s service were funded so that early intervention could be offered to prevent problems from escalating.

Mark Smulian

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