LGA calls for rethink of the care system

LGA calls for rethink of the care system

Increase in care applications is costing extra £226m, claim local authorities

The Local Government Association claims that 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. The sum, it says, is a combination of extra court costs and the increased bill for the number of children in council care. The Association warns that the escalation in costs could threaten the future of other council services intended to help all families.

The LGA were responding to the latest official figures on care referrals for the period from October to December 2009, published by Cafcass. Compared with the same period last year, care demand is up 20.9% (378 cases). This suggests that the rate of increase is stabilizing at the new higher level following the publicity surrounding the court case into the death of Baby Peter in November 2008. However, November 2009 saw 753 care applications – this was the third highest monthly figure since Cafcass records began in 2005.
Care demand in the nine months from April to December 2009 was 46.1% higher than the same period in 2008, 37.6% higher than the same period in 2007, 25.9% higher than the same period in 2006 and 31.2% higher than the same period in 2005.

Anthony Douglas, CBE, Cafcass’ Chief Executive commented:

"It is now universally acknowledged that the record increases in care demand have placed massive pressure on all agencies working in the child protection system. Initially we struggled to manage this sudden rise in our total caseload but, as a result of the President’s Interim Guidance and our revised operating priorities, we have managed to reduce our unallocated care case numbers from 986 cases at the end of August to 497 cases as at 11th January 2010. We have achieved this through sheer hard work and, in a number of areas, new duty advice schemes.”

The LGA 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.

The Association says that the number of children 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 meet 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 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.”

The release of official figures for care applications coincided with the publication of the Government’s Green Paper ‘Support for All – Families and Relationships’.

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