Around a quarter of councils are planning cuts in children’s care services this year as they struggle to cope with austerity and rising demand, a survey has found.

The Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) annual State of Local Government Finance Survey of council leaders found that children’s services and education is the top immediate financial pressure they face amid ongoing budget cuts and financial uncertainty.

Of those leaders surveyed by the think-tank, 24 per cent said they are looking to reduce activity in children’s care services due to budget constraints. The same proportion are planning youth centre cuts, with 16 per cent saying special education and disability support will be cut. Supporting more families with complex needs is the top reason cited for children’s services becoming a growing financial pressure. This is mentioned by 59 per cent of those surveyed.

More than half (57 per cent) say increasing numbers of children being taken into care was a key driver, while 52 per cent mentioned the pressure of supporting children with special educational needs and disabilities. Other factors include the increasing cost of residential care (cited by 49 per cent of councils), social worker recruitment (43 per cent), increasing numbers of child safety referrals (38 per cent) and lack of foster carers and adoptive parents (35 per cent).

Children’s services budgets are also having to cope with emerging challenges, particularly so-called “county lines” operations, where gangs exploit young people in drug distribution networks.

This is mentioned as a top-three pressure on children’s services by one in 20 councils, all of which are located in the south-east, London and the Midlands. Supporting unaccompanied child asylum seekers is identified as a major financial pressure by one in seven councils, all of which were in the south east, Midlands, London and Yorkshire.

This is the second year running that children’s services and education has been listed as the greatest immediate pressure council’s face. Adult social care was the top concern in 2017 and 2016.

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