Care system in England is struggling to cope

The Children’s Commissioner has found that the number of children in care aged 13 or over rose by 21 per cent between 2013 and 2018, while the number aged five or under fell by 15 per cent.

With the care system in England struggling to cope with rising demand from teenagers, the study showed that 23 per cent of children in care are now over 16, while a further two-fifths are aged 10 to 15. Councils have suffered an average cut in government funding for children’s departments of 29 per cent between 2010 and 2018, equivalent to £3 billion.

The 2019 Stability Index report warns that councils and the government have yet to catch up with this new normal, which is contributing to instability in the care system.

Furthermore, the report highlights that one in 10 children had two or more home moves in 2017/18. Another one in 10 moved school in the middle of the school year and just over a quarter had two or more changes of social worker.

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said: “There are an increasing number of teenage children in the care system and too many of them are ‘pin-balling’ around the system, changing home and family, school and social worker. Often they have the most complex and expensive needs. In one local authority, 20 per cent of the entire children’s services budget is being spent on just ten children. This is completely unsustainable.

“It is clear that we have a care system which is playing catch up. The new norm is shifting so that fewer babies and very young children are being taken off parents who cannot cope. Instead it is teenagers who are being taken into care because they are experiencing issues such as criminal or sexual exploitation, going missing from home, and parents being unable to protect them.

“The result is a care system that is struggling to cope and which in turn is not providing the stability that many highly vulnerable children need. We should be alarmed that one in ten children in care moved home four or more times in three years. These children are being denied the chance to put down roots, to feel part of a family and to settle at school. It is not surprising that they are often the ones most at risk of exploitation. All children in care have a right to expect that the state does all it can to improve their chances of growing up in stable and loving environments.”

Anntoinette Bramble, chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said: “More children are entering the care system with complex needs, and it can be harder for councils to find the best possible placement, which can result in moves despite the best efforts of everyone involved. No child should be kept in an inappropriate environment simply to avoid another move.
“A national recruitment campaign for foster carers would help ensure we have a choice of families to place children with to best meet their needs. The government should also use the Spending Review to fill the £3.1 billion funding gap facing children’s services by 2025.”