'Shameful levels of poverty and underinvestment' have led to the North East having the highest rates of children of care in the country, an MP has said.

Emma Lewell-Buck, MP for South Shields, was speaking ahead of a report published today (Wednesday, April 17) which shows the disproportionately high rates of children in care in the North of the country compared to the South.

The study, by Health Equity North, also highlights the immense pressure placed on children’s services in northern regions that shoulder a greater share of a weighty economic burden as a result.

Experts found that in the North, the rate of children in care per 10,000 of the child population is 93, compared to 62 in the rest of England.

It found that if the North had experienced the same care entry rates as the South between 2019 and 2023, it would have saved at least £25 billion in lifetime social costs of children in care.

The North East has the highest overall care rates, followed by the North West, West Midlands and then Yorkshire and the Humber.

Mrs Lewell-Buck, co-chairperson of the Child of the North All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), said: “As a former social worker, I have experienced first-hand the immense pressure placed on children’s services in the North.

“When children and families aren’t given the right support the consequences and damage done can last a lifetime.

“In my region specifically, shameful levels of poverty coupled with underinvestment has led to dramatically disproportionate rises in the number of children in care, compared to the South.

“Excellent social work happens every single day, yet this report highlights how valuable opportunities to improve social care for both children, families and those who work with them are being ignored.

“Our children deserve better.”

Led by Dr Davara Bennett from the University of Liverpool, the report's authors analysed existing data to paint a clear picture of the regional inequalities that exist within the care system in England.

There were more than 83,000 children in care in 2023 in England and the report warns that the risk of that number rising is high as health inequalities continue to widen and more and more families are falling into poverty, particularly in the North.

The rise in child poverty between 2015 and 2020 led to more than 10,000 additional children entering care - equivalent to one in 12 care entries over the period.

The worrying findings of the report have prompted calls from Child of the North APPG members and academics for urgent action to address the inequalities in the care system.

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The APPG members and report authors are calling for a range of measures to be considered by government including: policies to reduce child poverty; enhanced material support for families involved in Children’s Services; investment in prevention strategies; joint anti-racist and anti-poverty policies; more support for older children and those leaving care; strengthening the workforce and wider system; and optimising children’s social care data.

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The report also summarises evidence on ethnic inequalities in children’s chances of experiencing care in England, decreasing numbers of foster carers, shortages in children’s homes, private profiteering, education disadvantages, children’s social care workforce challenges, homelessness, and includes insights from care experienced children as well as those working within children’s services at local authority level.

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Professor Kate Pickett, academic co-director at Health Equity North, said: “This is very disturbing and I hope that current and future governments will act on the clear recommendations set out in the report to help create a fairer future for all children.

“For children who spend time in care, the experience stays with them beyond childhood.

“For many, they continue to face adversities throughout the course of their life, often experiencing worse educational, employment, income, housing, mental and physical health, and criminal justice outcomes, than other children.

“This report makes it very clear that things need to change.”