More than 2,000 Lancashire children in care
Charities fear vulnerable children across England may be missing out on support
Thousands of Lancashire children are in the care system, figures show.
During the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, the number of children being looked after by councils across England hit a record high, as adoption processes slowed down and youngsters spent longer in care.
Children’s charity Barnardo’s said the pandemic left many vulnerable children on the brink of crisis, with lockdowns and school closures meaning they often missed out on support.
Department for Education data shows 81,000 children were in care across England in March and 2,006 were in Lancashire – the equivalent of 79 in every 10,000 young people in the area.
That was higher than the rate across England, where 67 in 10,000 youngsters were in care on average.
In Lancashire the rate of looked after children fell from 83 in March 2020 and was down from 85 in 2019, before the pandemic.
Of those being cared for, more than half (1,075) were boys, while the largest proportion were aged 10 to 15 years old.
Figures show 537 youngsters in the area started to be looked after in 2020-21.
The Government said coronavirus restrictions contributed to a national fall of eight per cent in the number of children starting to be looked after, with 28,000 recorded last year.
But despite this drop, the total number of children in care rose one per cent across England, as the average placement increased by 79 days and adoptions fell by almost one fifth.
Barnardo’s interim co-CEO Lynn Perry said the pandemic contributed to fewer children leaving the care system, with those who turned 18 during lockdowns allowed to stay in care placements longer.
She added: “ Fewer children were identified as needing adoption because there was less contact with professionals, while for many children who were ready to move in with their adoptive families, the process was put on hold.
“However, we have been concerned for a while that numbers of adoptions are reducing, and we need to do more to ensure all children who would benefit from an adoptive placement are identified and matched with suitable parents as soon as possible.”
The Local Government Association – which represents councils – said the “right level” of funding was needed to allow local authorities to prevent children reaching crisis.
Anntoinette Bramble, of the LGA, said: “With spiralling demand on children’s social services and future cost pressures in children’s social care set to increase, councils still find themselves in the unsustainable position of having to overspend their budgets.
“Councils want to work with government on a child-centred, cross government pandemic recovery plan.”
A Government spokeswoman said it was levelling up outcomes for vulnerable children via a regional recovery fund for children’s social care, and said councils were being given £4.8bn in grant funding to maintain frontline services.
She added: “To give all children the best start in life, we are also championing and investing in family hubs, which offer early help to families in need.”