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Demand for child protection continues to rise, say Directors of Children’s Services

Success of early help services is variable

Levels of demand for child protection and care services continue to rise nationally, new research shows, and a majority of directors of children's services fear that pressures will continue to rise in future years. Local authorities are having variable amounts of success in using early help services to reduce demand on child protection social workers, a newly published report has found.

The third phase of the safeguarding pressures research, published by the Association of Directors of Children's Services, found overall increases nationally masked significant variation at a local level, with some authorities seeing rises of up to 100% in some types of activity, while others had seen decreases of 30% or more.

Those who had seen a decrease in child protection activity attributed the decline to: 

President of the ADCS, Debbie Jones, said:

"The key message of this research is that services for protecting children are part of a wider system, from early help through to permanent homes for children in care. It is necessary to consider the whole system, rather than piecemeal reform, in order to successfully manage budgets to cope with increasing pressure. Time taken to make a decision or complete a process in one part of the system has knock on effects in the rest of the system and the speed with which a child can be found a permanent home. Directors of Children's Services have this holistic view and will be developing whole system approaches to reducing demand for child protection and care services while keeping children and young people safe from harm."

Early help services are in place in almost all local authorities in some form or another, but the impact these services are having on demand for more specialist services varies considerably, according to the report. For some, better services in the community has met the uncovering of previously unmet need, while in others, DCSs are seeing some reduction in child protection concerns due to early intervention. This goes to show, the ADCS says, that early help services are not a quick fix or a magic bullet, but require sustained and sustainable funding over a number of years to have the effect that we are all seeking.

The number of permanent placements, including adoptions, special guardianship orders and residence orders, has increased over the last five years and the research indicates that: 

Debbie Jones continued:

"This research shows that adoption is not the only option when seeking a permanent home for children in care, and that Special Guardianship Orders and Residence Orders can offer a quicker solution in some cases, and particularly with groups for whom it is harder to find suitable adopters, such as sibling groups or older children. A focus on adoption will only go part of the way to ensuring permanent homes for as many children as possible."

The research documents can be downloaded here.