Children in care in England at record high as adoptions fall by 18% during pandemic - how regions compare

The number of looked-after children in England has risen by 5,484 in four years, as adoptions slowed during the pandemic.

Adoptions have fallen by almost a fifth as the number of children in care reaches a record high (image:NationalWorld/Kim Mogg)

Councils are facing “unsustainable” pressure after the number of children in care rose to a record high in the first year of the pandemic, while adoptions fell by almost a fifth.

Shropshire Council saw a whopping 26% increase in the number of children in care in the year to March 2021, according to Department for Education figures, with the number across England rising by 1%.

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But it is the North East that is facing the biggest demand on children’s social care overall, with more than 100 out of every 10,000 under-18s in the care system – the highest rate in England.

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A record high

The number of under-18s who are cared for by councils across England hit a record high of 80,852 in March 2021, up from 79,997 in 2020. In March 2018 there were 75,368.

During the year to March, 610 (18%) fewer adoptions took place - as the pandemic caused parts of the system to close in the first lockdown.

The Local Government Association (LGA) now expects children’s social care costs to soar by £600 million every year until 2024/25 as councils struggle to cope with “spiralling demand”.

‘Unsustainable position’

Councillor Anntoinette Bramble, chair of the LGA’s children and young people board, said: “Councils are now looking after 15,340 more children than they were 10 years ago.

“With spiralling demand on children’s social services and future cost pressures in children’s social care set to increase by an estimated £600 million each year until 2024/25, councils still find themselves in the unsustainable position of having to overspend their budgets.

“Councils want to work with the Government on a child-centred, cross government pandemic recovery plan which offers the very best future for children and families.

“This would need to be supported by the right level of funding to enable councils to provide the early intervention and prevention support to stop children reaching crisis point in the first place.”

Councillor Anntoinette_Bramble

Lancashire tops table for children in care

Lancashire County Council has 2,006 youngsters in its care, the highest number of any council in England, although this figure is down by 89 since 2020.

Blackpool, a stand-alone council within the county of Lancashire, had the highest rate of children in care, at 210 for every 10,000 under-18s in the area, more than three times the national average of 67.

Shropshire Council saw the biggest increase in the number of kids in care, from 399 in March 2020 to 504 in March 2021 – a rise of 26%.

Cosima Towneley, Lancashire County Council’s cabinet member for children and families, said Lancashire is the fourth largest local authority in the country, which means it needs to look after more children.

She said: "Lancashire also has some areas of high deprivation, where we deliver extra support to families to ensure children get the best start in life. We are doing this through innovative schemes like Family Safeguarding, where the council supports families to stay together and provides early help to tackle any potential problems.

"By working in this way, we have seen a significant and promising reduction of the number of children needing to be looked after in Lancashire."

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Drop in adoptions

Nationally, the number of children being adopted during the year to March fell by 18%, from 3,480 in 2019/20 to 2,870 in 2020/21. Adoptions were down by 25% compared to 2018.

While the East and West Midlands have seen the biggest increase in the number of children in care (5% and 4% respectively), it is the North West where adoptions have fallen the most.

Adoptions here were down by 28%, from 680 in 2019/20 to just 490 in 2020/21.

The Department for Education says the decline across England was likely a result of the impact of Covid on court proceedings, with cases progressing more slowly or paused entirely.

The effect was not universal, however, with some councils seeing an increase. Both Newham and Redcar and Cleveland saw adoptions more than double during the year to March 2021, from seven to 16 and from nine to 20 respectively.

Government ‘levelling up’ for vulnerable children

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “We are levelling up outcomes for the most vulnerable children through a regional recovery fund for children’s social care to tackle the most pressing issues they face in those areas.

“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.

We recognise the challenges that councils are facing, including the pressure on children’s services, which is why we are providing local authorities councils with £4.8bn in new grant funding to help maintain vital frontline services, including children’s social care.”

There will be 10 family hubs set up across England.

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