Children in the North at greater risk of entering care

Anonymous picture of young person being comforted by carer

A new report led by a University of Liverpool researcher has revealed the £25 billion children in care burden placed on stretched services in the North of England.

Published today [Wednesday April 17, 2024] by Health Equity North on behalf of the Child of the North All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), the report shows the disproportionately high rates of children in care in the North compared to its southern counterparts.

It also highlights the immense pressure placed on children’s services in northern regions that shoulder a greater share of a weighty economic burden as a result.

Put into perspective, if the North had experienced the same care entry rates as the South between 2019 and 2023, it would have saved at least £25 billion in lifetime social costs of children in care.

Led by Dr Davara Bennett from the University of Liverpool, the authors analysed existing data to paint a clear picture of the regional inequalities that exist within the care system in England.

They found that in the North, the rate of children in care per 10,000 of the child population is 93, compared to 62 in the rest of England.

The North East has the highest overall care rates, followed by the North West, West Midlands and then Yorkshire and the Humber.

There were over 83,000 children in care in 2023 in England and the report warns that the risk of that number rising is high as health inequalities continue to widen and more and more families are falling into poverty, particularly in the North.

The rise in child poverty between 2015 and 2020 led to over 10,000 additional children entering care – equivalent to one in 12 care entries over the period.

The worrying findings of the report have prompted calls from Child of the North APPG members and academics for urgent action to address the inequalities in the care system.

The Child of the North APPG members and report authors are calling for a range of measures to be considered by government including: policies to reduce child poverty; enhanced material support for families involved in Children’s Services; investment in prevention strategies; joint anti-racist and anti-poverty policies; more support for older children and those leaving care; strengthening the workforce and wider system; and optimising children’s social care data.

The Children in Care in the North of England report also summarises evidence on ethnic inequalities in children’s chances of experiencing care in England, decreasing numbers of foster carers, shortages in children’s homes, private profiteering, education disadvantages, children’s social care workforce challenges, homelessness, and includes insights from care experienced children as well as those working within children’s services at local authority level.

Dr Davara Bennett, lead author of the report and Public Health, Policy & Systems at the University of Liverpool, said: “Our report has exposed the deeply rooted social inequalities reflected in, and exacerbated by, the child welfare system. These need to be tackled head-on by policymakers. Local authorities are trapped in a cycle of ever-greater spend on children in care, at the expense of investment in effective support for families in need. The evidence shows the damage caused by cuts to prevention and failure to address the very real problem of child poverty in the North.

“There are a number of policies that, if implemented, could help reduce the number of children entering care and improve the care and support children and families receive when in need. We urge government to hear our calls for action and commit to addressing them as a priority.”

Professor David Taylor Robinson, the University of Liverpool’s W.H. Duncan Chair in Health Inequalities said: “Children growing up in the North of England get a bad deal. Due to poverty and lack of investment, their outcomes are some of the worst in rich countries –  from risk of death in childhood, to obesity, mental health, and as this report shows, they have a much greater chance of being taken away from their families compared to children in the South. This is unfair and preventable. Addressing these issues must begin with better policies for children, with a key focus on reducing our unacceptably high levels of child poverty.”

Professor Kate Pickett OBE, Academic Co-Director at Health Equity North, and Director of the Public Health & Society Research Group and the York Cost of Living Research Group at the University of York, said: “For children who spend time in care, the experience stays with them beyond childhood. For many, they continue to face adversities throughout the course of their life, often experiencing worse educational, employment, income, housing, mental and physical health, and criminal justice outcomes, than other children.

“This report makes it very clear that things need to change. Children and families should have access to a system that is adequately funded to be able to provide the support and care needed to help them reach their potential as they go into adulthood.

“It is no great surprise that the North sees the highest rates of children in care when you consider the entrenched health inequalities we continue to battle and the decades of under-investment which have hollowed out preventative services.

“This is very disturbing and I hope that current and future governments will act on the clear recommendations set out in the report to help create a fairer future for all children.”

Click here to access the full report