The cost of taking children into care will rise by £226m this financial year, according to the Local Government Association (LGA).
The estimate follows figures from family courts body Cafcass showing that the unprecedented rise in referrals is stabilising at record levels.
The LGA predicts that, in 2009-10, 32% more care applications will go through the courts, costing an extra £39m in preparation, support and the proceedings themselves. The overall cost of care referrals for 2007-8 was £2.08bn, according to the LGA.
There has also been a rise in the number of children going into local authority care. The number entering the care system for the first time went up by 9% in 2008-9 and can be expected to show a sharper increase during the current year. This equates to an extra cost of £187m, the LGA states.
Councils are warning that these rises, against a year of already tightening finances, is not sustainable. The LGA says early intervention schemes will have to be sacrificed to foot the bill and a national “rethink” is needed about how the care system is organised.
Councillor Shireen Ritchie, who chairs the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “It would be wrong to pretend that there is no cost involved in the changing attitudes to child protection. There is a price to be paid, particularly if it means a reduction in the help and support councils can offer to other families.
“There have been well-publicised arguments about whether social services should step in sooner and more frequently where children are thought to be at risk. If it is decided that, as a nation, we must play a bigger role in how families raise their children there will have to be a debate about how to fund and manage a system that can do this properly.”
Kim Bromley-Derry, president of the ADCS, agreed. “If care proceedings are to remain at this level, resources will need to be found to meet the demand and difficult choices made,” he said.