SERIOUS child harm cases reported by councils have risen by nearly a fifth in the past year, new figures show.

According to figures from the Local Government Association (LGA), there were 536 serious child-related incident notifications in England during 2020/21, up 19 per cent from the year before, and 41 per cent higher than five years ago.

Like previous years, babies under the age of one continue to be the most at risk with the highest proportion (36 per cent) of notices filed. During the past year, 191 incidents involved infants under the age of one. Reports relating to child deaths went up by 19 per cent, with 223 notices filed.

The LGA, which represents councils in England and Wales, is extremely concerned about children’s safety amid extra pressures on families during the pandemic, with acts of abuse more likely to go unseen “behind closed doors” during successive lockdowns.

Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said:

“Supporting and protecting vulnerable children is one of the most important roles played by councils who want to ensure all children are safe, loved and thrive, so this rise in serious incident notifications is particularly harrowing and a huge cause for concern.

“The pandemic has put extra pressure on families, particularly those living in difficult circumstances, which can fuel harmful acts of abuse or neglect on children. Councils have been working hard with their partners to identify this and provide the help children need, but it is vital that children’s social care services are funded to meet this need."

Despite pressures on funding, councils have tried to protect budgets for the services that protect children, investing an additional £1.1 billion over the last two years by diverting funding from other local services.

Despite these efforts, soaring demand for safeguarding services means councils still overspent their children’s social care budgets by £832 million in 2019/20. 

According to the LGA, this is clear evidence of the urgent need for the forthcoming Spending Review to invest further in children’s social care. This includes sufficient funding to provide preventative and early-help services to help avoid situations escalating into acts of abuse and harm on children and young people.

The LGA has repeated its call for the £1.7 billion removed from the Early Intervention Grant since 2010 to be reinstated. The association is also calling for a cross-Whitehall strategy that puts children and young people at the heart of recovery and ensures local safety nets are properly resourced and well organised.

It says the Government’s independent review of children’s social care is a vital opportunity to help ensure sufficient resources are available to give all families and children the support they need and deserve.

Cllr Bramble added: “The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care has already identified that there is no situation in the current system where we will not need to spend more to keep children safe. The Government must heed this warning.

“We also want to work with the government to produce a cross-Whitehall strategy for children and young people, clearly articulating the role that all departments will play in keeping children safe and well. It is only by working together that we can effectively safeguard our most vulnerable young people.”