The results are stark:
When we assessed the average weekly cost of external CSC residential placements for the same 20 councils, we found that it had increased for virtually every council - rising 6% on average in the six months from April 2020 alone, compared to a 5% increase across the whole year from April 2019 to March 2020.
With 85% of councils overspending on their children’s social care budget last year, this increase in both demand and cost will put even greater pressure on councils to continue delivering services and balancing their budgets.
There are four recognised primary drivers for CSC:
- Domestic violence
- Substance misuse
- Deprivation / poverty
- Children, young people and family mental health issues
None of these factors are mutually exclusive, and every situation obviously includes other factors as well.
All of the publicly available evidence and our own work in this area makes it clear that the current circumstances have exacerbated these social problems. The increased demand on CSC arising from this situation is likely to continue for the rest of the year and well beyond potentially.
Our analysis also shows that the average weekly cost of an external residential placement is now over £4,000 per week (a near 50% increase in 5 years), so combined with the increase in demand, there will be a lot of pressure on CSC budgets this year.
How can councils mitigate this situation?
Long term prospects
One small positive is that as pressure on CSC departments has increased over the last few years, at least awareness of the challenges has become more widespread. As a result, two reviews are now in motion: the government has commissioned an independent review into CSC and the Competition and Markets Authority will be undertaking a market study on CSC provision.
It is unlikely, however, that any positive outcomes from these reviews will be felt by CSC departments in the current financial year – and potentially next year as well.
What can councils do now?
Forecasting is key. Councils can do a lot to manage and alleviate these pressures, but detailed and robust forecasts, based on accurate data on what is happening right now – including the impacts of the pandemic – both in your council and across the country is critical. This will enable you to set a realistic baseline for projected CSC spend in a COVID world and manage/set stakeholder expectations.
Budgets for this financial year may not fully reflect the impact of coronavirus, and there are many other factors that are outside the control of CSC departments, and councils. Building a clear picture of the current state of play, and understanding the likely future demand and cost pressures, will put councils in a better position to mitigate these pressures.