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ADCS issues warning of extreme threat to early help services

Children's leaders warn that pressures on children's services threatens early help offer from councils

Published on 7th November 2018

Early help services are under extreme threat, children's services leaders have warned.

Ahead of the Spending Review, the Association of Directors of Children's Services annual Safeguarding Pressures report warns that "the tipping point has been reached".

"Local authorities have protected and invested in children’s services despite devastating cuts to their budgets using reserves or diverting funds from other services, yet we hear that worse impacts may yet be to come," said the report.

"This situation is simply not tenable with many respondents [to their research] and other sources stating that services can no longer be protected going forward."
ADCS has collected qualitative and quantitative data from local authorities in six phases spanning 2007/8 to 2017/18.

It reveals that at 31 March 2018:

- An estimated 2.4 million initial contacts were made to children’s social care in 2017/18, a 78% increase over the past ten years.

- Referrals to children’s social care went up by 22% in the last decade.

- The number of children subject to child protection plans increased by 87% in ten years.
 
- Twice as many children became subjects of a child protection plan due to neglect in 2017/18 compared to ten years ago and emotional abuse continues to increase.

- An estimated 644,430 Child in Need assessments were completed in 2017/18 and over 170,000 assessments included domestic abuse as a factor.

- It is estimated that 75,480 children were in care in 2017/18 - an increase of 24% in ten years

- The number of 16 -17-year olds who were subject of a child protection plan rose from 0.5% of all children subjects of child protection plans in 2007/8 to 4% in 2017/18.

The report shows that abuse and neglect continue to be the primary reason for referrals to children’s social care and for children becoming looked after.

While local authorities have a legal duty to keep children safe from harm and to promote their welfare, the many changes which have occurred over the past decade are impacting on this goal. This includes the National Audit Office's finding that there has been a 50% reduction in local authority budgets since 2010, 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," said the report.

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 fully funded.

Investment through the Troubled Families programme has enabled local authorities to work creatively, with half of respondents stating that this funding underpins their early help offer. However, 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.

"In terms of the future, there is a sense that authorities have been constantly re-designing and re-configuring services to meet needs and manage the growth in demand. They have done so whilst maintaining, passionately, a clear focus on children and their families at the heart of services," said the report.

"In order to stop the cycle, we are seeing, and start to reduce demand and support children and families when they need it most, local authority children’s services must be resourced to allow for a focus on prevention. Change of this magnitude takes time, more time than a parliamentary cycle.  This is a challenge that the government cannot ignore as we enter the next Spending Review period," the report concluded.

ADCS president Stuart Gallimore said: “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," he concluded.

Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said: “These findings reinforce the need for new and long-term significant funding for children’s services, which are fast approaching a tipping point and face a funding gap of £3 billion by 2025 just to keep services running at current levels.

“While the additional investment announced in the Budget was a small step in the right direction and helpful, this will do little to alleviate the immediate and future pressures on services for some of the most vulnerable children and families in the vast majority of council areas.

“It is vital that the government tackles the funding crisis facing children’s services in next year’s Spending Review, and delivers a long-term sustainable funding solution that enables councils to protect children at immediate risk of harm while also supporting early intervention to prevent problems escalating in the first place," she added.

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