LEADERS across the region are calling for a major shake-up of the country’s care system – which they say is not achieving the best outcomes for children and families.

A report on children’s social care, carried out by the directors of children’s services at 12 North East councils, says significant change is needed to alleviate “unsustainable pressure” on services.

The directors say that the daily challenges of providing social care are felt acutely in the region where there are high numbers of children in care and shocking levels of poverty and deprivation.

They are asking the Government for a joined-up national policy agenda to address child poverty – and to make it a core component of the levelling-up agenda – and for better funding for all parts of the care system.

John Pearce, chair of the North East Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said: “Endemic poverty in many of our communities, together with a shortfall in funding, is driving dramatic increases in the need for intervention through children’s social care. We know these issues are not unique to our area, but they are being felt particularly strongly in the North East due to deep-rooted socio-economic disparities.

“Family networks are very much valued in our region and there is a strong sense of community but, nevertheless, many residents are affected by longstanding and significant levels of inequality and disadvantage.

“The numbers of children needing care are unsustainable and a different pattern of care is the only solution. We must address system-wide barriers so that our frontline staff have the capacity to build strong relationships with children and their families to support meaningful change.”

Extensive research shows a clear correlation between deprivation and the level of need for social care support.

The North East has consistently had the highest rates of statutory social care involvement of the English regions, including the highest rates of Children in Care, Child Protection Plans and Children in Need.

At the same time, the rate of Children in Care in the region increased by 77 per cent between 2009 and 2020 compared to a national average of 24 per cent, and all 12 North East local authorities now have a Children in Care rate that is above the national average.

Even before the pandemic, the picture in the region was deteriorating markedly, with the region experiencing the steepest increase in relative child poverty between 2014/15 and 2019/20.

The calls are made as the North East Regional Care Report, which will feed into the Government-commissioned Independent Care Review, is published today.

The report not only looks at the daily challenges faced by local authorities, the impact they have on children and their families but also makes recommendations for system-wide change.

It identified a capacity for improvement and points to innovative practice already in place in the region – with three of the 12 local authorities recognised for their high-quality practice as Sector Led Improvement Partners of the Department for Education.

Mr Pearce, of Durham County Council, added: “Our report describes the vital importance of partnership working with health services, the police and schools, and shows that working more closely within our local communities, we can make sure families get the help they need sooner in order to prevent problems from escalating. We believe investment in social regeneration should be central to the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda.

“As local authorities, we are working at the frontline of the care system, so are in a unique position to add a first-hand perspective to the Independent Care Review, not only providing an understanding of the current situation, but also offer solutions to the issues raised.

“Here in the North East, we have a shared sense of purpose, a real passion for what we do and a strong collaborative approach which, we believe, can help us bring about a radical change in ways of working.

“We believe we can make a powerful contribution to the national debate and inform national thinking.”