THE number of children in care in Bolton has hit a five year high ­— with the cost of looking after the youngsters rising by millions of pounds every year.

The year-on-year increase in the number of children being looked after is said to be placing "an additional strain" on resources.

There were 642 children in care as of March 31 last year, an increase on 572 at the same point in 2015, Department for Education figures show.

This is costing Bolton Council more than £7 million ­— with the local authority regularly overspending to look after those children.

The borough's rate of 95 in every 10,000 children under-18 in care places it number five in the Greater Manchester table of authorities with the highest number of looked after youngsters.

In a report Bolton Council stated: "Children's Services in Bolton are seeing a significant increase in demand on services resulting in an projected budget overspend of approximately £5m in 2018/19.

"Since 2011/12 reduction in budgets on local authorities has been significant but Bolton has sought to protect the most vulnerable."

The report adds: "In the last three to four years Children's Services in Bolton have consistently overspent due to increasing costs of looked after children."

Bolton Council’s Executive Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, Cllr Christine Wild, said: “Like the rest of the UK, Bolton has seen a significant increase in the number of looked after children and this has put additional strain on our resources.

“We are meeting this challenge by developing new ways of working.

“This includes working even more closely with parents and our partners, and putting measures in place to intervene early to help families to care for their children and stop children from entering the care system.

“By supporting families and building on their strengths, we aim to give very child in Bolton the best possible start in life.”

Bolton Council's spend on looked after children has risen from £23.1 million in 2016/17 to £30.2 million in 2018/19.

The "increasing complexity" of young people within the system means that placement costs over £100k are becoming more common.

And adoption rates are at an all time low, with just 20 per cent children adopted in 2019, compared to 31 per cent in 2015.

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, announced recently by the Education Secretary.

"We are moving forward with a review of the system so that children receive the best possible care."