Sunderland sees huge rise of children in care – councillor blames benefits cuts

Coun Pat Smith is worried about the rising number of looked-after children in the city.
Coun Pat Smith is worried about the rising number of looked-after children in the city.
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A councillor responsible for safeguarding youngsters has spoken of her fear for Sunderland’s looked-after children, as its numbers shoot up amidst Government cuts.

Coun Pat Smith, who is the portfolio holder for children and learning, called the 14% increase of children in care in just one year “a big worry”.

The cuts will affect everything to do with looked after children and everything to do with children’s services. It’s a big worry

Councillor Pat Smith

As of June 1, 591 young people were in the care of the council on Wearside, compared to 519 on the same date last year.

Coun Smith says she holds the Government responsible for more and more families losing their way in a desperate financial situation.

She said: “I think it is safe to say that it’s not rocket science when we see the numbers of people going into care.

“If benefits had not been cut this wouldn’t have happened.

“It puts the fear of God into me to see we have another five years of this.

“The cuts will affect everything to do with looked-after children and everything to do with children’s services. It’s a big worry.”

Cabinet members were discussing the first revenue budget review of the financial year, which showed particular pressures being placed on safeguarding children.

A report read: “There continues to be significant demand placed on the service due to the numbers of looked-after children and availability of suitable placements, resulting in the budget being exceed by £5.5million in 2014/15.”

The report stated the pressure on this year’s children’s safeguarding budget points to a £4million deficit.

Council leader Paul Watson said the Government was “shortsighted” in stating that making cuts elsewhere will not affect other services.

“It is unbelievable,” he said. “Sitting here is where the buck stops and we have to deal with it, with another five years to go.”

Javed Khan, chief executive of children’s charity Barnardo’s, said: “Every child living in poverty is a child that’s being let down.

“Child poverty is a direct reflection of a failure, as a society, to protect our most vulnerable families.”