CHILDREN in care in Blackburn with Darwen has hit a five-year-high ­— with the cost of looking after the youngsters rising by almost £2 million since 2015.

The rise in looked after children mirrors the national trend with the Local Government Association (LGA) saying the system is reaching breaking point.

There were 403 children in care locally as of March 31 last year, an increase on 316 from the same point in 2015, Department for Education figures show.

Blackburn with Darwen Council’s spend to look after the youngsters has risen from £14.9 million in 2015 to £16.8 million in 2018/19.

Adoption rates have also fallen.

A review of health services for Children Looked After and Safeguarding in Blackburn with Darwen by the Care Quality Commission last year found that the number of children and young people looked after by the local authority is significantly higher at 98 children per 10,000 compared with 64 per 10,000 in England.

Latest figures show that rate is 105 per 10,000 children under18, compared to the England rate of 65.

Executive member for children, young people and education at Blackburn with Darwen Council, Cllrr Maureen Bateson said: “Unfortunately there’s no simple answer to this and it worries us every day. It’s not only a problem for Blackburn with Darwen, it’s right across the north west. It’s having a major impact on the council’s budget and most of the authorities in the north have already overspent on their budgets.

“We need more foster carers and more specialist carers as some of these children have complex needs, whether it be medical, social or psychological. The issue is, there’s been a massive under funding by the government and we try as a local authority to do our best. We don’t want to see children in care."

Nationally the number of children in care has risen by 28 per cent, with the Local Government Association (LGA) saying the system is reaching breaking point.

Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield branded the care system as being “in crisis” and urged the Government to launch an independent review.

Cllr Judith Blake, Chair 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.

A Government spokeswoman said: “We are investing £1.5 billion in social care so that every child in care receives the support they need, no matter where they live. But we know that too many children are waiting for the stable and loving home they deserve, which is why we are boosting the number of foster and adoptive parents and offering plenty of support to these families from the word go - including £45 million through the Adoption Support Fund."