Children’s social care costs £3bn more than thought, review finds

Children’s social care costs £3 billion a year more than thought, a government-appointed review has revealed, as experts warn the sector “cannot afford to morally or financially” continue.

The Government announced an independent review of children’s social care in January, with the final report due to be published in spring 2022.

Josh MacAlister, chairman of the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care in England and founder of Frontline, the charity that recruits top graduates into social work, has previously described children’s services as a “tower of Jenga held together by Sellotape” in need of major reform and investment.

However, new analysis reveals the financial and social cost of the sector for the first time.

The Telegraph has seen a copy of the review’s costings report which reveals that England spends £13.1 billion per year on children’s social care and associated public services.

The cost is usually considered to be the £10.5 billion spent directly by local authorities.

But the review has estimated the total to be almost 25 per cent higher – with an additional £1.2 billion spent by central and local government on care proceedings and £1.3 billion spent on additional public services provided to children who need a social worker.

Mr MacAlister said: “The toll of early adversity, loss and trauma for children who have social care involvement is substantial and is borne acutely over a lifetime by children themselves. The moral case for change is indisputable. This report estimates the social cost at £23 billion per year and adds financial weight to the case for change.

“We cannot afford, in financial or moral terms, to keep on with more of the same. This report should leave us all asking, how can we do better?”

The report also calculates the total lifetime cost of child social care as at £23 billion, a figure equivalent to twice the Home Office budget, the GDP of Estonia, more than 2.5 times the policing budget and half of the schools budget.

‘Through this report we want to add weight to the case for changing children’s social care’

The social cost for each child that needs a social worker is estimated at £14,000 a year and up to £720,000 over their lifetime. Applied to those of all ages who have ever needed a social worker as a child, the estimated social cost is £23 billion a year.

Mr MacAlister, who was appointed by the former education secretary, Gavin Williamson, to head the independent review, will address the findings in a speech to the National Children and Adult Services Conference later on Friday.

He is due to say: “Through this report we want to add weight to the case for changing children’s social care, adding hard-headed economic analysis.

“The cost of poorer outcomes, which amongst other things includes impacts on health and wellbeing, losses in productivity, and higher spending on public services, is estimated at an eye-watering £23 billion a year.”

Children who need a social worker often experience poorer outcomes than average in health, wellbeing, education and employment. They are also more likely to go on to experience homelessness, abuse alcohol, spend time in prison and have shorter lives.

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