AN INCREASE in the numbers of children in care across Dorset has prompted a warning that the nation faces a “looming crisis” in foster care due to the coronavirus.

Children’s charities say England’s care system will be placed under great strain as a result of measures to deal with Covid-19, with some families already pushed to “breaking point”.

Department for Education figures show there were 251 looked after children – those placed under the care of the council – in Bournemouth in 2018-19.

This was a two per cent jump on the year ​before, and the second consecutive annual increase.

In Poole there were 194 - also a two per cent increase - and the figure for the rest of Dorset was 416.

This trend was replicated across the country, with 78,000 children looked after by local authorities in England – a rise of four per cent on 2017-18.

The vast majority of these go into foster care with the Independent Foster Carers Alliance warning the sector faces a “looming crisis” as the coronavirus begins to place a strain on foster families.

Charity director Jane Collins says she fears reduced support for families will mean even more children needing new homes, while school closures have added to the strain on foster families caring for children with disabilities, who can no longer attend.

"The current unprecedented crisis is placing a massive strain on foster carers,” she said.

"Foster carers with children with complex medical needs and disabilities are already at breaking point without respite provision and school to give them needed time to recharge their batteries.”

The coronavirus outbreak could also further the anxiety of children in care, causing “very challenging behaviour” and the breakdown of many placements, she added.

Anne Longfield, the Children's Commissioner for England, said there would be significant knock-on effects on children’s social care, which was already under heavy pressure.

She said: “Whilst it is hard, and unwise to predict at this stage, it would also be unwise to rule out the possibility that the number of vulnerable children needing care won’t increase, and add strain on a system whose staff are facing the exact same health threat we all are.”

Figures show one in every 145 children in Bournemouth are looked after, compared to one in 154 across England.

Almost two-thirds of looked after children in England in 2018-19 were placed into care as a result of or because they were at risk of abuse or neglect.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said schools are remaining open to children in foster care to help protect them.

She said: “Foster carers play a vital role in the lives of looked-after children. We are urgently addressing the challenges that they are facing during these uncertain times and working to get more emergency foster carers approved swiftly to help alleviate pressures on the system.”