Number of children in care could reach almost 100,000 by 2025 – as county leaders call for an ‘unrelenting’ focus on keeping families together

CCN Latest News, CCN News 2021 | 22 November 2021

The number of vulnerable children being placed in council care could reach almost 100,000 by the middle of the decade – up from 69,000 in 2015 – a new analysis reveals.

The County Councils Network (CCN) warns that unless these trends are abated through major reforms and investment, this could see local authorities in England spend £3.6bn a year more in 2025 on children in care compared to 2015.

At the CCN’s 2021 Conference today, its chairman Cllr Tim Oliver will tell over 200 delegates that too many vulnerable children are being placed in expensive residential care settings due to an insufficient number of alternatives, such as foster carers. Councils are also having to reduce preventative services, particularly for those most in risk of entering the care system.

Cllr Oliver will call for an ‘unrelenting’ focus on preventing family breakdown and supporting them to stay together, where it is safe to do so. He will also call for a systemic reform of the way local public services work together to reduce the number children entering the care system, and crucially, the number of young people staying in care for longer.

CCN is warning that the reliance on expensive care placements is placing unprecedented pressure on local authority budgets, with the costs of supporting children in the care of local authorities set to consume 60% of their children’s services budgets by 2025 – meaning there will be less money for services to support families.

Cllr Oliver will say that alongside a reliance on residential places – and their cost – councils have also faced a ‘vicious cycle’, where local authorities have had to reduce preventative services and support to families in crisis where a child is at risk of requiring care services, due to funding pressures.

The government has launched a review of children’s services amidst rising costs for local authorities. The CCN argues that whilst funding must be provided so councils can invest in targeted preventive services, more needs to be done in reforming the system to support families being kept together. The chair of the review, Josh MacAlister, will be addressing CCN’s conference today.

The data comes from emerging findings from a major study into the future of children’s services by Newton. Download it here.

The new data, released at the CCN’s 2021 Conference today shows:

  • The number of children in care could rise to 95,000 by 2025, up from 69,000 in 2015: a 36% increase. This could mean councils’ spend on children in care rises from £3.8bn in 2015 to £7.4bn in 2025. As a proportion of their children and family budgets, spending on children in care could rise to 59% of their total by the middle of the decade, up from 42% in 2015.
  • The number of children in residential care has increased by 27% since 2015, and this is largely due to councils struggling to source suitable alternatives, such as foster carers and children staying in the care system for longer.
  • The number of foster carers has not kept up with demand, so a lower proportion (-4%) of children are being placed in these homes since 2015.
  • Residential care is the most expensive form of care. The costs of an average weekly residential placement have increased from £2,915 per week in 2014 to £4,165 in 2020, and this is one of the factors in local authorities overspending on their children’s services budgets.
  • Separate CCN figures show that many local authorities have taken the decision to reduce preventative services by £436m (18%) since 2015, due to funding pressures.

CCN says that the government’s £500m to give children ‘the best possible start in life’ announced in October’s Budget was encouraging, but the Department for Education’s review of children’s social care led by Mr MacAlister must provide substantive extra funding to help reform the care system and to reinvest in targeted prevention and support for families in crisis, where a child is at risk of being taken into care.

County leaders say money is not the only answer and have urged for the review to investigate how all parts of the public sector – local authorities, schools, police, courts, and the health service – work better together on emerging issues, such as mental health. This could only be done effectively if children’s services continue to be locally delivered by councils.

Cllr Tim Oliver, Chairman of the County Councils Network said:

“Protecting young people from serious harm is one of the most important roles for a council, and this analysis shows the unprecedented pressure that rising numbers of children in care will place on our budgets by the middle of this decade.

“Councils are in a vicious cycle: due to financial pressures local authorities have had to reduce preventative services to focus on intervention in crisis situations, alongside facing a lack of alternative solutions, such as foster care.

 “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. With the situation becoming unsustainable, we need additional funding and an unrelenting focus on preventing family breakdown and keeping families together, alongside systemic reform of how councils work with their public sector partners to achieve these aims.

Luke Tregidgo, Director at Newton said:

“Speaking to children, families and practitioners, and combining what they have told us with extensive analysis, has given us a rich and robust view of what needs to change locally and nationally to achieve the ambitious vision the sector clearly has for children in the care of local authorities. We look forward to sharing these full findings early next year.”





Notes to editor

  • Children being taken into care are the most serious – and expensive – decisions for local authorities. A child may be taken into the care of the local authority where it is believed they are suffering, or at risk of suffering, significant harm. Once taken into care, the local authority will endeavour to reunite the child with their parent or guardian if it is safe to do so, but long-term options could include residential placements, special guardianship where a family member looks after the child, a foster home, or adoption. 
  • The trauma associated with a young person coming into care has a strong correlation with other issues emerging for them later in life. One quarter of the adult prison population were previously in care in England. This figure is taken from a Ministry of Justice publication (pg38) from 2012. 
  • The forecasted rise in children coming into care is calculated by applying the average growth rate between March 2017 to March 2020 to current number of children in care. 
  • Following extensive engagement with both local government and children and families with lived experience of care, CCN and Newton will be publishing the full findings of their major study in the report, The Future of Children’s Social Care, in early 2022. This will explore in detail how an ‘optimised’ model of children’s services, delivered by local councils, can improve how outcomes are achieved and reduce long-term costs for children in care, while improving partnership working across health, police, courts and education.