Children’s social services are being engulfed by a funding crisis in which nine out of 10 local authorities are struggling to meet their legal duties and families face a postcode lottery, a damning report has concluded.
The inquiry by MPs, led by a former Conservative children’s minister, Tim Loughton, has found “wildly different approaches” in the ways that councils intervene and how likely they are to take children into care.
The report – shared exclusively with the Guardian – found that in one part of the country (Blackpool) more than seven times as many children were being taken into care than in another (Richmond in London).
It also cited a tenfold difference in the numbers being referred to services in the first place: from 187 per 10,000 children in one area to a massive 1,753 in another.
The report, by the all-party parliamentary group for children, also suggested that councils were coping with a spending squeeze by tightening up the criteria by which they classify a child as being in need – cutting thousands out of the system altogether.
One council told MPs that the numbers of children in need was being “grossly under-reported” because of “the reality of rapidly rising thresholds that arise from reducing resource”.
Loughton said the inquiry had revealed that children’s services were stretched to the limit “and in many cases on the brink” and called on the government to urgently investigate the “extraordinary…