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Covid's impact on children in care revealed by government figures

Lockdowns restrictions and delay in court proceedings cited as to blame for significant fall in activity

By Professional Social Work magazine, 18 November, 2021

New government figures highlight the dramatic impact of Covid on England's looked after children population.

The Department for Education (DfE) data for the year ending 31 March show:

  • An 18 per cent drop in adoptions
  • An eight per cent fall in children being brought into care
  • A six per cent drop in children removed from care
  • A 20 per cent fall in unaccompanied asylum seeking children coming into care

Lockdowns, travel restrictions and delays in court proceedings due to Covid were cited as reasons behind the reductions by the DfE.

Overall, however, the number of looked after children was at an all-time high of 80,850 on 31 March, up one per cent on the previous year.

Males were most likely to be in care, accounting for 56 per cent of looked after children. The biggest proportion were aged ten to 15 years – 39 per cent. Next came teenagers aged 16 and over (23 per cent) followed by five to nine-year-olds (14 per cent) and one to four year-olds (14 per cent). Five per cent were aged less than a year.

Most were white – 75 per cent. Ten per cent were mixed or multiple ethnic; seven per cent black, four per cent Asian and three other ethnicities.

Abuse or neglect was the most common reason for children coming into care cited in 66 per cent of cases. This was followed by “family dysfunction” (14 per cent) and “family in acute stress (eight per cent) and “absent parenting” (five per cent).

In one per cent of cases the reason cited was “low income”.

In its early findings, the Review into Children’s Social Care in England highlighted a system under “significant strain” with more families investigated and more children coming into care. It’s Case for Change document said “costs are spiralling as money is increasingly spent on crisis intervention”.

It claimed struggling parents looking for support too often find themselves assessed without meaningful support due to “fewer local services to support families”.

The government earmarked £500 million for children and families in the autumn budget, including plans to create 75 family hubs in local communities in a bid to support families.

Campaigners, however, blame a lack of investment in early intervention and preventative services and a decade of austerity cuts for failing families.

Emily Aklan, chief executive of Serenity Welfare, which provides support for struggling families, said: “These latest figures are distressing, but unfortunately not surprising. The number of children going into care in England has been steadily growing over the last decade and is now at an all-time high. Yet investing in the children’s social care system has been continually side-lined in terms of government priorities.

“What’s more, the number of young care leavers who are leaving the system who aren’t in education, employment or training is also on the rise.

“There are so many reasons why young people may be placed in the care system, and a number of these are preventable. Increased investment in early intervention services can help children on the edge of the care system come out of it, but to do so the government need to make this a top priority.”

More risk averse cultures within local authorities fuelled by public and political vilification of social services following child deaths has also been cited for the increase in looked after children over the last decade.