ALMOST one in five children in Southend are living in poverty, a new report has revealed.

The Local Safeguarding Children Board has published a report, which outlines how 18.9 per cent of children in Southend are living in poverty, which experts say is contributing to the rising number of children requiring support from social services.

It found that 1,323 children – about 4 per cent – were in need of a specialist children’s service last year and the number looked after by the council rose from 282 to 291.

More than half of all looked-after children are living outside of Southend - mostly with foster families.

The number of children in need of services has been reduced from 1,387 in 2017 but is significantly higher than in 2016 when there was just 964. The number of children put on a child protection plan to ensure their safety has also fallen from 220 to 116.

Council bosses say improvements have been made by investing in staff and reducing caseloads.

They note they are “confident that children who are in care need to be in care” and the increase in looked-after children in 2018 is due to “improved safeguarding practice relating to infants and our improved understanding of risk and harm experience... due to criminal and sexual exploitation”.

The leading reasons for children needing children’s services are noted as “abuse or neglect” followed by “disability or illness”. Other causes include “family in acute stress”, “family dysfunction” and “absent parenting”.

Helen Boyd, cabinet member for children and learning, said: “The annual report shows a reduction in the number of children subject to a child protection plan and a reduction in the number identified through assessment as being formally in need of specialist children’s services.

"This is down to a continued and increased investment into early help provision and an increased number of social workers ensuring that children’s needs are being met at an earlier stage.

“However, whilst it is good to see this reduction, there is always work to do in this important area and the report highlights a number of areas where we are working in partnership to improve outcomes for vulnerable children.”

“The report states that the majority of our looked after children feel safe and are happy.

"We know that our social workers are spending more time with children and that there are no delays to our processes unless it is in the child’s interests to do so. We also know we need to continue to improve practice and have identified priority areas of focus.”

“We will continue with this work into the year ahead with a number of aims outlined in the report that will develop our processes, partnership working and community engagement.”

A needs assessment published by the council at the beginning of the year revealed just under one in five children live in low income families and the percentage of children living in poverty was 2 per cent higher than the national average.

“Poverty” is said to have a “very strong association” to poor physical and mental health.

In the UK, families in “poverty” live on less than 60 per cent of median income.