A LOCAL authority is pressing the government to take action as the Covid-19 pandemic has led to significant increase in number of the children in its care.

Darlington Borough Council’s cabinet member for children and young people said rise was an issue being seen across the country which had been fuelled by family courts, such as the one in Teesside, being closed to all but urgent cases for a significant part of the year due to the virus.

Since 2018 the number of children in care in Darlington borough has risen from 215 to 291, but the authority estimates around ten per cent of the children – 28 – it is currently looking after would have left the care system had it not been for the pandemic as they were awaiting adoption and other court orders.

Councillor Jon Clarke said the children awaiting court rulings were being given the best possible care, but the delays would be a source of frustration for them and could affect their wellbeing so the authority was lobbying central government to cut the backlog as soon as possible.

He said: “The number of looked after children in Darlington changes regularly, and remains at a manageable level, both financially and from a staffing perspective.

“There can be any number of reasons why children go into care – including abuse, neglect and family breakdown. As a council, we will continue to do everything in our power to provide a safe, supportive environment for all our looked after children.”

The authority’s former cabinet member for children and young people, Councillor Cyndi Hughes, said the courts’ backlog meant children were facing the consequences of “drift and delay” in finding permanent homes and securing children’s future legally to bring stability and security – a failing the council had worked hard to rectify after its children’s services were rated inadequate by Ofsted in 2016.

She said pressure needed to be put on the government to clear the backlog as the number of children being referred for care was likely to rise as during lockdown children would not have seen people who pick up on issues, such as teachers and doctors.

Cllr Hughes said: “Young people deserve every opportunity to get back with their families when it is deemed the children are ready.”

An HM Courts and Tribunals Service spokesperson said it had prioritised all urgent cases throughout the pandemic, including those involving children, and had used video technology so hearings could take place remotely and in court.

She added: “Nightingale courts, including one in Middlesbrough, will boost our capacity and help to clear outstanding cases.”