Children’s minister Robert Goodwill has committed up to £20m in Department for Education funding to expand a sector-led-improvement drive in children’s social care.
The news comes as councils in England said record numbers of children had been taken into care over the past 12 months, with an average of 90 children going into care every day.
Lobby group the Local Government Association said official figures showed there were currently 72,670 looked-after children, up 3.1% on the last year – the biggest annual rise of the last seven years.
Speaking to a social services conference in Bournemouth, Goodwill said the DfE’s funding would result in a new programme to help all councils improve their services, but that it would have “a sharp focus” on making sure those at risk of failure could make vital improvements.
Dozens of local authorities have had their children’s services departments subjected to government-directed intervention over the past decade, with high-profile examples including Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council, the London Borough of Haringey, and Birmingham City Council.
Goodwill said too many young people and their families were “being let down by poor quality services” or left at the risk of harm.
“Our interventions programme is yielding real results: 36 local authorities have been lifted out of intervention since 2010 and we are seeing a positive impact from the independent children’s social care trusts that we have set up in Doncaster and Slough,” he said.
“My commitment is that we will build a self-improving system, one that spots where challenges are emerging, and quickly puts the right support in place.”
DfE said the £20m funding would bring more councils into the Partners in Practice programme, helping to deliver tailored peer support for local authorities, and which only authorities with an overall Ofsted rating that is “good” or better are eligible to join.
It will also support the testing of Regional Improvement Alliances, in which neighbouring councils challenge each other on standards, agree local improvement priorities, and share best practice to deliver better services for children and families.
Separately, innovation foundation Nesta is launching a new “What Works Network” for children’s social care, which will focus on improving outcomes for children who are at risk of – or suffering from – abuse or neglect.
The LGA wants ministers to devolve a portion of the DfE’s £300m centrally-held budget for children’s services to local authorities.
Richard Watts, chair of the organisation’s children and young people board, said such a move would help to deliver a range of support for senior staff and councillors, and aid that could be targeted at those councils judged to require improvement.
“We are calling on the government to use the Autumn Budget to commit to fully funding children’s services and invest in improving services to ensure vulnerable children get the appropriate support and protection they need,” he said.
According to the LGA, local authority children’s services face a £2bn funding gap by 2020.