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Failure to invest in children’s social care services ignores rising demand

APPG for Children publishes report into children's social care in England

An inquiry into the social care of children and young people has found that the system is struggling to keep pace with the rising numbers of children and families who need help, with nearly 90% of senior managers saying they find it increasingly difficult to provide children 'in need', including those with disabilities, families in crisis and those at risk of abuse and neglect, with the support they require.

The All Party Parliamentary Group for Children Inquiry brought together evidence about the current resourcing of children's social services and changes in the nature and level of demand, to improve understanding of the challenges facing under-performing children's services, and how to address them. No Good Options has identified key areas in which improvement is essential if children's services are to reach all children and young people in need of support.

The Inquiry heard repeatedly that local authorities are having to target dwindling resources toward children who have already suffered abuse or neglect, or those at a high risk of harm, rather than nipping problems in the bud. The shift toward late intervention makes it harder to engage with families before they reach crisis point. For some children this means, by the time social care services are involved, there is no option but for them to be taken into care.

The APPG has made the following recommendations:

  1. The Department for Education and the Department for Communities and Local Government should conduct a review of resourcing of social care services.
  2. The Government should incentivise investment in early intervention and prevention.
  3. The Government should strengthen duties on schools, health services, police and other agencies, in the context of the new local safeguarding partnership arrangements.
  4. The DfE should consult on a review of the current framework for supporting 'children in need'. 
  5. The DfE should commission an independent Inquiry into variation in access to children's services across England, and the impact on outcomes for vulnerable children. 
  6. The DfE should develop a strategy to reduce churn in the children's social work system. 
  7. All local authorities should be required to sign a regional memorandum of understanding on the payment of locum staff. 
  8. The DfE should support and incentivise local authorities to improve participation practices so that vulnerable children play a meaningful role in their care. 
  9. Children's participation entitlements, including to advocacy and support from Independent Reviewing Officers (IROs), should be protected. 
  10. The Government should adopt a more flexible approach to intervening in failing children's services. 
  11. The DfE should develop an outcomes framework for children's social care to help drive practice improvement.
  12. The DfE should work with the Local Government Association (LGA) and the Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS) to establish a national program for developing senior leaders and a 'buddying' system whereby failing local authorities partner with outstanding counterparts.

Cllr Richard Watts, Chair of the Local Government Association's Children and Young People Board, said:

"Councils have been warning government for some time that the pressures facing children's services are rapidly becoming unsustainable, with a combination of government funding cuts and huge increases in demand leaving many areas struggling to cope. The number of inquiries into child protection concerns undertaken by councils has increased by 124 per cent over the past decade, and the number of children needing child protection plans has increased from 26,400 to more than 50,000 over the same period – an increase of more than 23,000 children needing social work support to stay safe from significant harm.
. . .

"The LGA's most recent analysis suggests that councils will be facing a £1.9 billion funding gap for children's services by 2020, and in many areas the pressure on children's budgets is now even greater than that faced by adult social care.

"Despite these huge pressures, it is important to recognise that social workers continue to provide heroic levels of support in local authorities throughout the country, and their tough decisions and swift actions are saving children's lives every day. The number of children dying due to homicide or assault has fallen by 69 per cent in England since 1985, and remains in long-term decline. But the pressure on these services is building, and the Government must act now to ensure that councils have the funding they need to keep children and young people safe in the years to come."

For the report, click here. For the executive summary and recommendations, click here.