Four in five of England’s largest councils overspent on their children’s services budget last year because of more young people requiring care since the pandemic.
Analysis by the County Councils' Network (CCN) found that 30 out of 36 county councils overspent on their children’s services budgets between 2021 and 2022.
The combined overspending was £317m.
CCN said that between 2020 and 2022, councils in county areas reported an increase of 8.8% in referrals to children’s services.
Referrals increased after the pandemic and remain high due to the cost of living crisis, according to councils.
CCN said that councils have increasingly had to prioritise young people in crisis rather than focusing on preventative and early help services.
Council leaders said that this was a ‘vicious cycle’ but budget pressures meant they had little choice.
Children’s services spokesperson for the County Councils' Network, Keith Glazier, said: ‘These concerning figures illustrate, once again, the impact of the pandemic and the cost of living crisis on vulnerable families.
‘Faced with this spike in demand, most councils in county areas have had little choice but to overspend on their children’s services budgets to protect young people, but four in five county authorities overspending is unsustainable.’