Demand for Wokingham’s child protection services has increased by a staggering 246 per cent from March 2017 to September 2018.

That means 159 Wokingham children require ‘child protection plans’, after “reductions in national funding” put “substantial pressure on the council’s resources”.

Executive member for Children’s Services Councillor Pauline Helliar-Symons said: “Like most of the country, Wokingham Borough has recently seen a large rise in demand for Children’s social care services.

“Demand has always fluctuated and Wokingham Borough’s remains low compared to similar authorities, however, along with our partners, we are working hard to understand the changes and to ensure we meet the needs of our most vulnerable children.”

Child protection plans are proposals drawn up by the local authority which outline how children in potential danger can be kept safe, how relationships in troubled families can be repaired and what support they need.

Council officer Viki Elliot-King told councillors at an overview and scrutiny meeting for children's services the rise was “unprecedented”, adding that it was the “steepest in the country” for the time period covered.

To learn more about why there had been such a steep increase in the number of children requiring child protection plans, the department looked back at data spanning the last twenty years, following a number of lines of enquiry.

Children’s services representatives told councillors that a number of factors contributed to the rise, including cuts to ‘Early Help Services’ and ‘Universal Services’, which helped fund extra support for schools, police and healthcare and as a result put more pressure on Wokingham’s services.

Labour councillor Rachel Burgess told the News: “This is another example of the extremely damaging effects of Conservative austerity on the most vulnerable in our society.

“Providing services on the cheap by cutting school funding and early intervention services as well as slashing police and health service budgets has contributed to this massive surge in the number of children needing protection plans – to be clear this means the number of children considered to be suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm.

“Austerity isn’t just something that happens in other places – its impact is being felt in one of the most affluent boroughs in the country.

“We must protect our children – and the policy of Conservative austerity over the last 8 years seems to be doing the opposite.”

More children require ‘higher levels of intervention’ because early intervention services are no longer available.

A report outlining other factors showed local decision making, changes to laws, and the “occurrence of high profile cases of child protection concerns in the national media” such as the “Baby P” case, all had a direct impact on the numbers.

Before the surge, the number of children requiring protection plans in Wokingham was lower than in Reading and Bracknell, despite Wokingham having a higher child population than its neighbours.

Now it is higher and the rise means 37.81 children from every 10,000 require the support.