Earlier this year the government set out its eagerly anticipated children’s social care reform agenda Stable Homes, Built on Love. This strategy, and the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care that preceded it, recognises that the system requires fundamental change to allow local areas to better meet the needs of children and young people in their care. As local authorities begin to engage with this agenda, the scale of the challenges involved in enabling the care system to meet these needs have only intensified further.
Over the past decade many have been experiencing growth in the number of children entering care and/or fewer children leaving the system; an increase in the complexity of need experienced by specific cohorts of children, particularly since COVID; and sharp rises in the fees charged by providers. The market for placements has become significantly more challenging with a record number of children in the system. As a result, most local authorities are experiencing overspends on their children’s services budget, and for some this is posing very real pressures that threaten their financial sustainability.
Ahead of the 2023 Autumn Statement, CCN warned that member councils were ‘running out of road’ to prevent financial insolvency, as in-year overspends topped a historic £639m. Nearly half (45%) of the budgetary pressures driving these overspends is being caused by spending on children’s services. As a result, one in ten councils are concerned they will not be able to balance their budget this financial year, with this number rising to six in ten by 2025/6. Previous CCN research had found that the opportunities for savings in children’s services to bring down these overspends are now limited with the proportion of spending on statutory duties in this sphere already having risen sharply from under 40% to over 50% during the latter half of the 2010s, and projected to reach as high as 60% by 2025.
Stable Homes, Built On Love rightly recognises that the primary solution to this problem is to invest more in early help services that reduce the need for statutory intervention further down the line. However, at this stage of the Spending Review process the Government has not yet been able to commit to the requisite £2.4bn injection of funding to accompany the strategy that was recommended by the Independent Review. In the absence of additional funding, local authorities can make a start on investing more in the early help that will bring down spending on looked after children in the future by reimagining how they approach delivering statutory children’s services.
Cllr Roger Gough, Leader, Kent County Council and CCN Spokesperson for Children’s Social Care