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New report illustrates increasing challenges faced by children and families in an era of austerity

“Over 100 new duties have been placed on children’s services since 2011”

The latest iteration of the Safeguarding Pressures research by the Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS) illustrates the increasing challenges children and families are facing and the growing difficulties local authorities have in meeting the increasingly complex level of need now present in our communities.

The ADCS has collected qualitative and quantitative data from local authorities in six phases spanning 2007/8 to 2017/18 to evidence and better understand changes in demand for, and provision of, children's social care.

The sixth phase of the study draws together survey responses from 92% (140) of all local authorities in England, the highest ever response rate, covering 11.3 million (95%) children and young people under the age of 18. This, together with existing data, provides an insight into the safeguarding related pressures facing children's services across the country.

As at 31 March 2018, (figures are rounded):

The ADCS notes that local authorities have a legal duty to keep children safe from harm and to promote their welfare. Myriad changes, it says, have occurred over the past decade which are impacting on this goal, from a 50% reduction in local authority budgets since 2010 (NAO, 2018), coupled with reductions in other public agencies, especially in the police and health and education services, and countless policy and legislative changes, most notably a sustained period of austerity and welfare reforms. ADCS estimates over 100 new duties have been placed on children's services since 2011. Whilst many are aimed at improving children's life chances and outcomes they are not always funded in full.

The research shows, according to the ADCS, that investment through the Troubled Families programme has enabled local authorities to work creatively, with half of respondents stating that this vital funding underpins their early help offer. This investment has facilitated better joint working and co-location with other professionals as well as the ability to fund much needed family support workers. This funding is set to end in 2020 and the majority of respondents said this will have a negative impact with, three quarters stating that nearly all early help services would be cut in their local area. One London authority said the loss of funding "…will create an unsustainable vicious cycle where needs are not met early or met well, putting further pressure onto high end, costly services."

Stuart Gallimore, ADCS President, said:

"This report adds to a growing body of evidence from the likes of the National Audit Office, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the Early Intervention Foundation, the Office of the Children's Commissioner and even select committees, illustrating the increasing challenges children and families are facing and the growing difficulties local authorities have in meeting the increasingly complex level of need now present in our communities. We will continue to work tirelessly to support children and families to thrive but government's current approach to funding public services is simply not working, least of all for children. With Brexit taking up so much focus and energy there is a real risk that the serious issues highlighted here in Safeguarding Pressures will remain unaddressed. This cannot happen.

"A decade of austerity has, undoubtably, impacted on children and families, fuelling demand for our help. When adult need is left unmet, due to the lack of support services available to them, it is difficult for us to make a sustained difference in the lives of children, our focus must be on tackling the root causes of these issues not simply the symptoms. Two thirds of all children living in poverty live in working households; rising costs of living; poorly paid work; and insecure; and poor-quality housing as well as changes and delays to benefit payments, only add to the stresses and strains that families face. Funding reductions in other areas of council business coupled with those seen in other public agencies, including health, schools and the police, are now having a clear impact on children's lives and outcomes.

"The cumulative impact of cuts, over many years, to the vital services children and families rely on is now being ever more sharply felt, despite the best efforts of thousands of dedicated staff. There is not enough money in the system to meet the level of need we are now seeing, and further cuts are planned. This is compromising our ability to improve children's life chances. Some local authorities have benefitted from additional funding by bidding for small, time limited pots of ringfenced funding, principally via the Department for Education's Innovation Programme but other government departments, including the Departments of Health and Work and Pensions as well as the Home Office have also adopted this piecemeal approach to tackling issues such as parental conflict and parental misuse of alcohol. Whilst funding is welcome, this short termist approach is unlikely to make a meaningful difference to the complex, entrenched social problems so many children and families face. It's time for change, beyond one parliamentary cycle - without this we will never be a country that works for all children."

For the report, click here. For the response of the British Association of Social Workers, click here.