Financial pressures are greatest challenge to children’s social care

Funding pressures are greatest risk to effective delivery of children’s social care, says report

Published on 14th August 2017

Local authorities risk being able to deliver children’s social care effectively due to financial pressures, a report has warned.

The Children’s Services Omnibus Wave 1 Research Report carried out for the Department for Education found that nine in 10 authorities have cited financial pressures as a risk to the effective delivery of children’s social care services over the next three years.

The warning came as Local Government Association analysis found that councils surpassed their children’s social care budgets by £605 million in 2015/16 in order to protect children at immediate risk of harm.

Funding crisis

More than 170,000 children were subject to child protection enquiries in 2015/16, compared to 71,800 in 2005/06 – a 140 per cent increase in just 10 years, said the LGA. The number of children on child protection plans increased by almost 24,000 over the same period, while ongoing cuts to local authority budgets are forcing many areas to make extremely difficult decisions about how to allocate increasingly scarce resources.

The LGA is warning that the pressures facing children’s services are rapidly becoming unsustainable, with a £2 billion funding gap expected by 2020. Unless urgent action is taken to reduce the number of families relying on the children’s social care system for support, this gap will continue to grow.

Cllr Richard Watts, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “The fact that the majority of councils are recording high levels of children’s services overspend in their local areas shows the sheer scale of the funding crisis we face in children’s social care, both now and in the near future.”

In the Children’s Services Omnibus Wave 1 Research Report, local authorities were asked to select up to three main risks to the effective delivery of children’s social care services over the next three years from a list of six options.

In addition, 57% of authorities selected recruitment of high quality staff and 51% selected retention of current staff as a risk over the next three years. Local authorities’ top priorities for improving children’s social care services over the next three years centred around improving the quality of social work practice (74%) and ensuring sufficient budget to maintain or improve children’s services (72%).

The report also found that:

-          Most LAs had a function or team that was able to analyse demand for children’s social care (84%).

-          Local authorities tended to be confident that they were able to identify unmet needs for individual children and families with 86% saying they were fairly or very confident.

-          A large majority of local authorities (91%) had multi-agency processes for dealing with child welfare referrals, either in place or in development (seven per cent).

-          Where multi-agency processes were already in place, most (94%) involved physically co-located teams.

-          Virtually all (96%) felt that the processes had helped improve information sharing.

Local authorities are confident in their workforce

The report also highlighted that one in five local authorities operated statutory children’s social care services jointly with another authority and a further seven per cent had plans to do so in development.

Almost three in five (57%) commissioned a voluntary sector partner to deliver children’s services, while a further seven per cent were considering doing so, nearly a quarter commissioned not-for-profit companies or trusts and a further 14% were considering doing so in the future and seven per cent commissioned mutuals to deliver aspects of children’s services with 11% considering doing so in the future.

Local authorities were confident about the short-term future of their social care workforce, but a notable minority did have some concerns over whether they would have sufficient staff in the future. Nine in ten were confident that supervisors/senior practitioners/practice managers had the knowledge and skills to support social workers with their cases and 89% were confident that they would be able to maintain the usual number of practice placements offered to social work students over the next year.

Just over half were confident that they would have sufficient numbers of permanent well-qualified child and family social workers to meet their needs over the next year. A large majority (91%) of local authorities felt that social workers were able to keep up to date with the latest research on social work practice very or fairly well.

11% of authorities felt their relationship with judiciary was poor

In terms of adoption and children in care, the report found that just over one-third of authorities said that it was fairly or very likely that there will be sufficient care placements for all children in their authority over the next year.

72% felt that their relationship with the local judiciary over care proceedings was good, but 11% felt their relationship was poor.

A large majority of local authorities provide financial support beyond the Adoption Support Fund, both to adopters (95%) and to special guardians (91%). While 93% of authorities provide support groups for adopters, far fewer at 55% provide support groups for special guardians.

All responding authorities offered support for parents with a disabled child in finding childcare. This support included publishing information about childcare options (91%); Families Information Services (91%); brokering childcare places with providers (79%) and providing help with transport (23%).

Authorities monitored outcomes for children and young people with SEND at three main levels:

-          At the level of the individual child young person, such as through monitoring outcomes in line with their Education, Health and Care Plan, or through on-going casework and formal Annual Reviews;

-          At provider (e.g. school) level, such as through school visits and data audits; and

-          At the level of the authority, such as through Quality Assurance Groups and centralised outcomes systems.

The report presents the findings from the first wave of the new DfE Children’s Services Omnibus Survey which explored senior local authority leaders’ perceptions on, and activities relating to, a range of policy areas. The online survey was sent to all 152 upper tier LAs in England and 101 LAs took part.

The Children’s Services Omnibus Wave 1 Research Report



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