The number of children in care in South Tyneside has risen for the first time in four years, Department for Education figures show.
At the end of March, 319 children were being looked after by South Tyneside Council, up from 275 last year – a rise of 16%.
But council chiefs say the number of children in care cas fallen to 310 since then and they have launched a new Families First Team with the aim of helping them to live safely within their own families.
Coun Moira Smith, lead member for children, young people and families at South Tyneside Council, said: “Supporting our most vulnerable children and young people is a priority for South Tyneside Council and we always strive to keep families together whenever it is possible to do so.
“Although the NSPCC report highlights an increase in numbers of children in care during 2018, over the longer term between 2014 and 2018 the number of looked after children in South Tyneside rose by just 4% compared to a national increase of 10% and over 18% in the North East. I am pleased to report that the rate of children becoming looked after is now falling again, with nine fewer children in care now than at the end of March.
“The council has invested in a new Families First Team to provide outreach, family work and respite care to children and young people with the aim of helping them to live safely within their own families and communities wherever this is in their best interests. Since this was set up in 2017 this service has supported 71 young people to remain at home, avoiding unnecessary entries into care and helping to build safer and stronger families. We will continue to invest in services that support children and their families.”
Across England, the number of children in care has seen the biggest year-on-year increase in a decade, rising by 4% from 72,600 last year, to 75,400 this year.
A spokesperson for the NSPCC said: “Taking children into care is never an easy decision. It is therefore vital that local authorities have the resources to work effectively with families to manage any risk so children can remain safely with their families.
“Once in care, local authorities must also be able to support these children through what can be a tumultuous experience to ensure they have the best possible outcomes.”
Children can enter care for a variety of reasons, including at the request of parents if they are unable to take care of the child themselves.
Unaccompanied asylum seekers and children at significant risk of harm are also placed in care.
A looked-after child could live with foster parents or in a children’s home, and the local authority has responsibility for their welfare, education and emotional wellbeing.
Children leave care automatically at 18, but the local council is required to provide support until they are 25.
They can also be returned to their parents if the court is satisfied with the arrangement, or adopted.
Meanwhile, the number of children being adopted in South Tyneside has fallen.
In 2017-18, 17 children were adopted from care, down from 33 the previous year.
Overall, adopted children made up just 19% of the children leaving care this year, with the remaining leavers returning to their parents, moving into independent accommodation or going to live with court-appointed guardians.
Nationally, the number of adoptions fell by 13%, from 4,370 in 2017 to 3,820 this year.
The Minister for Children and Families, Nadhim Zahawi, said: “We want every child to be in a loving, stable home that’s right for them.
“In most cases, children are best looked after by their families and courts will only remove children as a last resort, when it is in the child’s best interests.
“But where a child cannot live at home, we must make sure they are safe and receive the highest quality care.
“That is why we are working hard to improve the social care support for children who through no fault of their own have been dealt a difficult hand in life.”