Steep rise in number of children taken into care in Notts

A steep rise in the number of children who are being taken into care has seen the Nottinghamshire County Council go over budget by £8.5 million, just months after the budget itself was set.

Almost 100 more children had to be taken into care last year compared to the year before. There are now twice as many children in care than there were a decade ago.

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A senior Conservative councillor has said the exact reasons were unknown, but bad parenting and a breakdown in families were partly to blame.

But the Labour party in Nottinghamshire said 10 years of austerity and growing child poverty were behind the nationwide trend.

On one day alone last year, six children had to be taken into care by the Conservative-controlled Nottinghamshire County Council.

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A council usually has to go to court to get a care order to take a child into care, when it is concerned for the safety or welfare of a child.

The rise in the number of children coming into care has put the already-tight budget under even more pressure, and bosses now say they expect the department to go over budget of £129 million by £8.5 million.

In the year to April this year, 875 children were looked after by the council – a rise from 797 the year before. As of July 15, the council had 891 children in its care.

This has also caused a rise in the number of case reviews being carried out by the council, which rose from 1,805 to 2,308.

Specialist case reviewers are meant to have caseloads of between 50 and 70, but at times last year it rose to 85 at points, exacerbated by several long-term illnesses in the department.

Conservative councillor Philip Owen, chairman of the committee which looks after children’s social care, said: “We aren’t certain what the underlying background to all of this is. All that we know is that we are having to take more children into care. The courts are dictating we do.

“It’s no doubt down to a breakdown in families, inability to parent children effectively, but outside of that we don’t know what real reasons are.

“Since 2009 the number of children taken into care has doubled, and if you say the average cost of a child in care is just over £60,000 you can work out just how much extra we are having to spend.

“We monitor trends, but it is unpredictable. We had a spike of about 80 to 90 children taken into care last year, and there didn’t seem to be any common theme.

“We are investing a lot of money in early years, and in our children’s centre services, so it’s difficult to see why we are getting this increase.”

Labour councillor Liz Plant, who represents West Bridgford North, said: “The rise in children coming into care is a nationwide issue, and while in Nottinghamshire the levels are below the national average, there is no doubt that ten years of austerity has increased pressures on family life.

“It has certainly widened the inequality gap.

“Support services for children of families in need such as Early Intervention have been reduced across the county, and so when families are struggling it is far more difficult for them to access the support they need.

“Child poverty has also increased, and the introduction of Universal Credit has clearly exacerbated this problem, adding additional pressures to hard working parents.”

After a Government decision last year, all councils now have a legal responsibility to look after people in care until they are 25, rather than 18.