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Why the number of children in care in England is set to rise

Local authorities caught in ‘vicious cycle’ amid austerity cuts and lack of foster carers

The number of children in care in England is on track to hit almost 100,000 by 2025 – an increase of more than a third within just one decade.

New research from the County Councils Network (CCN) shows that based on the average increase rates for the past four years, the total will reach 95,000 by the middle of the decade, up from 69,000 in 2015.

“The reality is that there are too many vulnerable children being placed in expensive residential care settings and staying in the care system for longer,” CCN chair Tim Oliver was expected to tell his organisation’s annual conference today in Marlow, Buckinghamshire.

According to Oliver, austerity cuts to council budgets have created a “vicious cycle”, with local authorities forced to “reduce preventative services to focus on intervention in crisis situations, alongside facing a lack of alternative solutions, such as foster care”.

CCN lead for children Keith Glazier, also the Conservative leader of East Sussex County Council, told the BBC that local authorities “aren’t having the ability to go out and do more early intervention with families, to try and keep families together, rather than having to take children into care”.

The new research suggests that unless the crisis is tackled through major reforms and investment, local authorities in England will spend £3.6bn a year more keeping children in care in 2025 compared with 2015.

CCN boss Oliver warned that “with the situation becoming unsustainable”, a boost to funding “and an unrelenting focus on preventing family breakdown” were urgently needed, along with “systemic reform of how councils work with their public sector partners to achieve these aims”.

An independent review earlier this year of council-run children’s social care in England also highlighted the “urgent need” for a new approach. The Case for Change report described the current system as a “tower of Jenga held together with Sellotape” and said that state intervention was too often focused “on assessment and investigation” rather than support.

The ongoing review is being conducted for the government by Josh MacAlister, a former teacher and charity boss. A government spokesperson told the BBC that £4.8bn in funding was being provided to councils to help maintain “vital front-line services”, including children’s care.

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