100 more children in care in Leeds as fears raised of big increases to come

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The leadership of Leeds City Council has claimed it is bucking the national trend of children in care, after new research reveals Britain could be facing a massive increase in looked after children in the coming years.

According to a study from the County Councils Network (CCN), the number of children in care in the UK could be set to increase to 95,000 by 2025, placing huge extra pressures on cash-strapped local authorities.

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According to official Government statistics, the number of Leeds children in care has increased from 1,239 in 2016 to 1,346 in 2020.

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Coun Fiona Venner, Leeds City Council’s executive member for social care.Coun Fiona Venner, Leeds City Council’s executive member for social care.
Coun Fiona Venner, Leeds City Council’s executive member for social care.

However, Leeds City Council’s executive member for social care Coun Fiona Venner said that with the increasing population of children in the city, this did not represent a rise in the proportion of kids in care.

She said: “Leeds numbers of children looked after and rate per 10,000 of the child population for 2021 do not reflect an upward trend.

“Whilst Leeds would acknowledge demographic pressures and financial challenges on children, families and the services supporting them, this has not yet impacted on numbers of children in care in Leeds.

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“As the only core city to hold an Outstanding rating for Children’s Social Care; Leeds has been on an improvement journey with a commitment to early intervention and prevention at its heart. Our investment in Family Group Conferencing and retaining a youth service and all our children’s centres are part of this.

“We are conscious of the challenges facing children and families which are leading to a national growth in numbers of children looked after and are committed to continuing to provide support to families early in the life of a problem to avoid increased numbers of children coming into care.”

Since 2016, there had been a national increase in nearly 10,000 looked after children to just over 80,000 overall.

The increase in cases comes at a time when local authorities are facing large cuts to public spending, with Leeds having lost more than £300m in annual spending power in the past decade, when adjusted for inflation.

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The CCN conducted a study, projecting the amount of growth in the number of children in the care system could rise significantly over the next four years.

It stated: “Based on the finding in this analysis that the rate of children in care grew by 12 per cent across England over the period 2015-2020, projecting forward means that, without changes to the system, the number of children in the care system is likely to rise from 69,470 in 2015 to between 86,000 and 95,000 by 2025 – a potential 36 per cent increase.”

It claimed that placing one child into a specialist children’s home can “easily cost £4,000 a week”, compared to less than £1,000 a week for a place with a foster family.

The report went on to conclude that there should be an “unrelenting focus” on trying to keep children with their families as long as it is safe to do so.

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It added: “With the overall numbers of children in the system continuing to grow it places pressure on both the availability and cost of placements for these children, and ultimately on local authority budgets.

“There is a need to focus on championing best practice and innovative solutions, whilst being honest about where there is potential to improve the system. Therefore is also a need for systemic reform of how councils work with their public sector partners to achieve these aims.

“Local authorities, schools, police, courts, and the health service – must work better together on emerging issues, such as mental health.

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“This can only be done effectively if children’s services continue to be locally delivered by councils, but crucially, recognising change needs to happen.”

It went on to say local authorities needed “fair and sustainable funding” to be able to invest improvements, adding: “But their (sic) is also a pressing need for substantive investment vital preventative and ‘edge of care’ services which will allow them to work with families to ensure that children are able to live happy and safe lives.”

The County Councils Network is a group within the Local Government Association – it is made up of mainly of county councils, covering large, more rural areas, such as North Yorkshire.

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