Rising child poverty is ‘major preventable driver’ behind thousands more children entering care

Rising levels of child poverty may be contributing to thousands more children going into care in England, research suggests.

Child poverty is a “major preventable driver” of youngsters being removed from their family home and going into local authority care, according to researchers from the University of Liverpool.

Their study found that rising child poverty, largely as a consequence of cuts to welfare support, was linked to an additional 10,351 children entering care between 2015 and 2020.

It was also associated with an extra 22,945 children being placed on a child protection plan, and 51,736 beginning an episode of need.

The researchers compared Government data on the number of children in low-income families with rates of youngsters entering care.

Over the five years, a one percentage point increase in child poverty was linked to five additional children per 100,000 entering care.

The researchers estimated 8.1% of care entries were linked to rising child poverty, equivalent to more than 10,000 children, at an estimated cost of £1.4 billion.

The rises have disproportionately affected more deprived local authorities that are less able to manage them, deepening inequalities, they said.

For example, the burden has disproportionately fallen on the North East and parts of the North West.

The researchers said their findings “underscore the need for an approach to child protection that explicitly addresses the socioeconomic conditions of families’ lives”.

Last month, Josh MacAlister’s review into children’s social care in England said the Government must address child poverty rates and other factors that push youngsters into care.

It warned that, without wider action, any future reforms “risk treating the symptoms and not the cause”.

Davara Bennett, lead author of the University of Liverpool study, said: “This study offers evidence that rising child poverty is a major preventable driver of the increase in children being removed from the family home and taken into local authority care – one of the most drastic state interventions into families’ lives.”

National anti-poverty policies would “relieve the unsustainable pressure” on local authority purses which are increasingly funding placements at the expense of preventative services, she added.

Senior author Professor David Taylor-Robinson said: “This study shows that rising child poverty is putting unnecessary stresses and strains on families, increasing the risk of children being abused or neglected and ending up in the care system.

“This is all the more shocking since child poverty is preventable in a rich country like the UK.”

The study is published in The Lancet Public Health and was funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR).

Alison Garnham, chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said: “The findings are a stark warning of what happens when governments turn a blind eye to child poverty.

“The need for an approach to tackle poverty that is more than one-off emergency payments could not be clearer.

“Protecting the wellbeing and life chances of children should be the nation’s number one priority and it needs comprehensive action.”

A Government spokeswoman said: “The Government continues to prioritise tackling deprivation across the country, and last week the Chancellor announced a new £15 billion support package targeted towards millions of low-income households, bringing the total cost of living support to £37 billion this year.

“We have provided £6 billion in additional funding for councils to address pressures arising from the pandemic such as children’s social care, ensuring the most vulnerable children and families have access to this extra support.”

“And we know helping people back into work is the best way to end the cycle of poverty – that is why our focus now is on filling our record number of vacancies, including through our new Way to Work scheme.”

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