Serious child harm cases up nearly a fifth

The number of incidents reported by councils of children being harmed rose by almost a fifth in the past year, according to new figures.

There were 536 ‘serious incident notifications’ in England during 2020/21, up 87 (19 per cent) on the previous year, and up 41 per cent since 2015/16.

Children aged under one continue to make up the highest proportion (36 per cent) of such notifications, with 191 incidents last year. Notices relating to child deaths increased by 35 (19 per cent), from 188 to 223.

The LGA is extremely concerned about children’s safety amid extra pressures on families during the pandemic, with acts of abuse more likely to go unseen ‘behind closed doors’ during successive lockdowns.

Councils have tried to protect budgets for child protection services, investing an additional £1.1 billion over the past two years. Despite these efforts, soaring demand means councils still overspent their children’s social care budgets by £832 million in 2019/20. 

The LGA says this is clear evidence of the urgent need for further investment in children’s social care and has reiterated its call for the reinstatement of £1.7 billion of early intervention funding removed since 2010.

Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “The pandemic has put extra pressure on families, particularly those living in difficult circumstances, which can fuel harmful acts of abuse or neglect. 

“Councils have been working hard with their partners to identify this and provide the help children need, but it is vital that children’s social care services are funded to meet this need.

“The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care (see ‘The case for change‘) has already identified that there is no situation in the current system where we will not need to spend more to keep children safe. The Government must heed this warning.”

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