Judy Terry is a marketing professional and a former local councillor in Suffolk.

Evidence that up to 100,000 children have not returned to school since the pandemic, is a ‘red flag’, according to the Children’s Commissioner, who has launched an inquiry with local authorities and the government to identify what has happened to them. Have they moved house; are they being homeschooled; are they sick or playing truant? Could they be caught up in gang culture, or even parental abuse?

Every day seems to bring more bad news, with London hitting a record for teenage stabbings.

Recent tragedies, when parents were allegedly complicit in the murder of their own young children, as well as two sets of twins killed by a fire when left at home alone, has highlighted the importance of effective social services, investigating and monitoring reported incidents and outcomes.

Sadly, this means that more children end up in care for their own safety; nationally, the figure is expected to hit 100,000 by 2025.

There is a general assumption that children’s suffering is confined to areas of deprivation, but that is far from the truth. Youngsters – across all levels of society – can be vulnerable to homelessness and abuse, both physical and emotional. These problems are exacerbated by international conflicts, as currently experienced in parts of the Middle East, where children are – literally – starving and suffering terrible injuries, whilst others are caught up in illegal Channel crossings.

For example, although fewer local children are going into care in Suffolk, in the last five years, there has been an overall 13 per cent increase, rising to 919 in 2020/21. This is partly due to the number of unaccompanied Asylum-seeking children being accommodated, and staying longer without permanent solutions, as part of the Home Office’s national transfer scheme.

The situation is further exacerbated by a shortage of foster carers, and the Suffolk Fostering Service is appealing for people to come forward if they are able to offer a safe and loving home, whether full or part time.

Cllr. Stephen Burroughes, who has responsibility for Fostering and Adoption, explains the vital role foster carers play in the lives of such vulnerable young people, “helping them grow into successful confident and resilient young adults. It is very rewarding.” Rated Outstanding by Ofsted, the service offers 24-hour support, competitive fees and 21 days paid leave each year, with details available here. Giving vulnerable children security, and getting them into education, so they can develop their talents, enjoying their lives, is vital to communities and wider society.

As demand continues to increase, children’s services are at the heart of Suffolk County Council’s new 2022/23 budget plans, with extra resources from the proposed 2.99 per cent council tax rise taking the budget from £598.2m to £625.4m, equating to an additional 80p per week for Band D properties and 62p for Band B, which are most common across Suffolk.

Other priorities include adult care, Highways, flood prevention and footpath improvements, as well as decarbonising council-owned buildings.

Cllr. Richard Rout, Cabinet Member for Finance & Environment says:

“We don’t take these decisions lightly, especially with the cost of living rising too, but responses to our public consultation acknowledged the additional pressures we face, and the importance of funding essential care for children and adults.

“We are proud of our careful financial management in delivering key services, but if anyone has concerns about paying their council tax, they may be eligible for the Council Tax Reduction scheme, managed by our borough and district councils, helping those on a low income.”

The final budget will be debated at a Full Council meeting on 17th February.

Meanwhile, following a nine-month procurement process, the council has announced a property development alliance with Lovell Partnerships to build 2,800 low carbon homes, with new schools, employment land, and public spaces. Five locations on council-owned land have been identified in Lowestoft, Mildenhall, Bramford, West Row, and Newmarket.

The 50-50 partnership is intended to deliver around £700m of gross development value over the 15-year agreement, with the option to extend by five years. Contracts are expected to be concluded in the spring, with the joint venture established in the summer.

In addition to providing much needed social housing and new community facilities, the partnership will generate significant funds for the council over the long term for strategic expenditure and investment.

Lovell’s Regional Managing Director, Simon Medler, is delighted:

“Opportunities of this scale, bringing so much local opportunity and benefit, are rare. We have been based in the East Anglia region for nearly 20 years, delivering thousands of new homes, employing many local staff and partnering with established local supply chains.”

Unlike some local authorities which are facing bankruptcy, Suffolk County Council is focused on balancing the books, working with the private sector and local communities, to deliver on its promises.