THE number of children looked after in care in Reading has increased since 2015, reflecting a national growth in demand for services.

The Local Government Association (LGA) is warning that the huge national increase in demand is combining with funding shortages to put immense pressure on the ability of councils to support vulnerable children and young people, and provide the early help that can stop children and families reaching crisis point in the first place.

READ MORE: Reading's newest Nando's restaurant to open

Figures revealed from the Department of Education and Newsquest Data Investigations Unit show that, in Reading, there were 209 looked after children in 2015, and 273 in 2019.

Spending by Reading children's service Brighter Futures for Children reflects the increased demand, with £162,66,000 spent on looked after children in 2015, and £229,36,000 in 2019.

READ MORE: Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service warn about dangerous washing machines

Deborah Glassbrook, Director of Brighter Futures for Children, said: "The most recent figures available for Reading show that 74 children per/10,000 population were in care in 2019 - equating to 273 as of 31 March 2019.

"This gives an average spend per child of £84,015, which ranks us across England (out of 152 local authorities or their representatives, such as us) as the 18th highest.

"Across the South East, including London, the average is £77,087, although our spend is not the highest.

"Reading is what's called an ‘outlier’ in terms of the number of children in care per 10,000 population when compared to our statistical neighbours

"This means the number of children looked after is higher than elsewhere."

Reading Chronicle:

Ms Glassbrook added that Brighter Futures are analysing the root cause for this, as well as putting more emphasis on their early help work in the community to reduce the numbers.

"Often, children have to be placed outside Reading and we are working hard to reduce this," she said.

"What we – and the children we look after – need is for more Reading people to come forward to become foster carers.

"Finding more local foster carers would be much better for our children and young people in terms of disruption and to be able to keep – wherever it's safe to do so - local ties with family, friends, and school.

"Becoming a foster family can be challenging but it’s unbelievably rewarding and offers stability and security when it’s needed most.

"If you are interested in becoming a foster carer with us, we’d love to hear from you.

"Please email or call us on 0118 469 3020."

Cllr Judith Blake, chairwoman of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: "These figures show the sheer scale of the unprecedented demand pressures on children's services and the care system this decade.

"This is unsustainable.

"Councils want to make sure that children can get the best, rather than just get by, and that means investing in the right services to reach them at the right time.

"Councils need to be given a seat at the table for the care system review, alongside children, families and partners, to make sure this looks at what really matters and what can really make a difference.

"It needs to ensure that children’s services are fully funded and councils can not only support those children who are in care, but provide the early intervention and prevention support that can stop children and families reaching crisis point in the first place."