Thresholds for intervention in children’s services have increased

Social workers warn that financial pressures are affecting when they can intervene with children at a variety of levels

Published on 13th September 2017

Seventy per cent of social workers say that thresholds for services have increased over the last three years, according to a survey.

Research carried out by the National Children’s Bureau for the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children suggests it is getting harder for vulnerable children to access the support they need.

The survey of over 1,600 social workers in England found that thresholds for a range of interventions have risen over the last three years, meaning children have to reach a higher level of need before qualifying for help.

Many stated that financial pressures are behind the raised thresholds.

Tim Loughton, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children, said: “This is an important piece of work providing extensive evidence from many social workers who deal with these issues day in day out across the country and must be addressed urgently by ministers.

“There is now a very real fear that intervention for an increasing number of children is being determined not by vulnerability and threat of harm but by finances and availability of support. As we know from bitter experience that is a false economy, both financially and socially, which can have a lasting impact on a child’s life chances,” he added.

Most social workers said that thresholds have risen across all levels of intervention: early help; services for children in need; child protection plans and taking children into care.

The survey revealed:

  • Seven out of 10 social workers said the threshold for qualifying as a ‘child in need’ had risen over the last three years.
  • Children’s services are also expected to provide support for struggling families, known as ‘early help’, to prevent them from needing statutory intervention. Two-thirds (66 per cent) said that thresholds for receiving early help had generally risen in the last three years.
  • Half said thresholds had risen for making children the subject of a child protection plan and 54 per cent said the same about applying for a care order. These steps are usually only taken when a child is at risk of, or suffering, neglect or abuse.

Sixty per cent of social workers said that the finances available to children’s services influenced decisions about whether to offer early help ‘very much’ or ‘to a great extent’. In addition, 61 per cent said this also applied to decisions about whether children qualified for statutory support as ‘children in need’, and smaller numbers said it applied to decisions about care orders (45 per cent) and child protection plans (33 per cent).

Anna Feuchtwang, Chief Executive of the National Children’s Bureau, said: “This is further evidence that children’s social care is becoming an emergency service, as councils struggle to meet their statutory duties to vulnerable children with dwindling resources and rising need. Central government must act now, so that struggling families and children get the help when they need it, not just when they’re in immediate danger of harm.”

“We also urge the government to think bigger and consider how changes to health, welfare and housing policy can create the right conditions for children to thrive,” she concluded.

Find out more about the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children and the Inquiry into children’s social care

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