Dire poverty in north-east England ‘driving many more children into care’

Die 12 directors of children’s services in the north-east of Engeland have warned that “shameful” levels of poverty in the region are driving dramatic rises in child protection intervention and the number of children in care.

The north-east has the highest rate of referrals to children’s social care in the UK, significantly higher than the national average, according to a joint report by the directors of children’s services in the region.

Sedert 2009, the region has seen a 77% increase in its care population. Inner London has seen a 25% reduction over the same period.

The directors call for a “radical rethink” of how to provide safe and loving homes for children who cannot live with their birth family. They argue the “dysfunctional market” for children’s residential care must be dismantled or radically overhauled and profit-making eliminated or capped.

They argue that the high level of deprivation in the north-east is a significant driver of demand for children’s social care services. “National measures to reduce poverty, focused on raising family incomes, are needed to break the cycle of deprivation which is driving concerns about child welfare,” they argue.

One of the directors said in the report: “Poverty is stark, shameful and obvious. Life chances are blighted. I’ve worked in a number of local authorities all over the country, but I’ve never worked anywhere where poverty is as bad and life chances so poor.”

The region saw the steepest increase in relative child poverty (after housing costs) tussen 2014-15 en 2019-20 – rising from 26% aan 37%. This is compared with a UK-wide increase from 29% aan 31% and means that the north-east has gone from having a child poverty rate just below the UK average to the second highest of any region or nation in just five years.

Levels of domestic abuse are also high, with one director of children’s services saying: “I worry that levels of violence and abuse are so endemic in some of our communities that it is not even recognised as a problem. We are dealing with a lot of violence in families – children-to-adult violence as well. This is learned acceptable behaviour.”

Demand for child mental health intervention outstrips supply. “We recently had a meeting with health to talk about tier 4 beds. It’s estimated that we need 120 beds for the region and we actually have 70. This means that you can’t get beds for children who need them, and young people are remaining in the care system or coming out into it as an alternative,” said one of the directors.

The cost of looking after vulnerable children comes at the expense of early intervention. In the three years to 2019-20 north-east councils saw an increase in net expenditure in children’s social care services of more than £77m (18.2%). Net expenditure on children looked after and safeguarding services increased by almost £83m (27%).

The directors say: “The north-east is in a vicious cycle with levels of demand causing pressure across the system and spiralling costs. With a larger proportion of the budget being spent on statutory services, there is a squeeze on spending compromising the ability to provide the prevention and early help needed to manage risk outside the statutory system and reduce children coming into care.”

Die verslag, produced as a submission for the government’s care review, urges ministers to increase local authority funding and develop an “ambitious, cross-departmental strategy to reduce and then end child poverty as part of its levelling-up agenda”.

Kommentaar gesluit.