Children's services are at 'breaking point'

Committee warns that funding of children's services needs urgently addressing

Published on 1st May 2019

The deepening crisis within children's services funding has been further highlighted this week after a committee of MPs said children's services in England are at breaking point.

Constricted funding and ever increasing demand on children's services means the current approach cannot be sustained, a report by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee has found.

Ahead of the 2019 Spending Review, the report calls for a funding settlement that reflects the challenges local authorities face in delivering children’s social care, and recommends a minimum increase to core grant funding of £3.1 billion up until 2025.

Committee Chair, Clive Betts MP, commented: “Supporting vulnerable children is one of the most important duties that local authorities provide. It is vital that we have the right support available in every part of the country, to ensure that vulnerable children get the support they need. Over the last decade we have seen a steady increase in the number of children needing support, whilst at the same time funding has failed to keep up.

“It is clear that this approach cannot be sustained, and the government must make serious financial and systemic changes to support local authorities in helping vulnerable children. They must understand why demand is increasing and whether it can be reduced. They must ensure that the funding formula actually allows local authorities to meet the obligations for supporting children that the Government places on them.

“We have reached a crisis point and action is needed now," he added.

The report highlights that local authorities are prioritising child protection work and reducing spending on non-statutory children's services in response to financial and service pressures, however, the majority are still overspending their annual budgets.

The committee states that the 2019 Spending Review settlement must reflect the increased demand and pressures on local authorities’ children’s services. At a minimum, non-ringfenced core grant funding up until 2025 should increase by £3.1 billion in total.

Furthermore, the government must announce a successor programme to the Troubled Families Programme in advance of the 2019 Spending Review to provide local authorities with certainty over their long-term funding streams beyond 2020. The day rate payment for unaccompanied asylum seeking children should also be increased.

However, the report states that increased funding alone will not lead to a sustainable children’s services and must go alongside systemic and strategic changes. As the number of looked after children increased from 59,400 to 75,420 between 2008 and 2018, the government should review the key factors driving demand children’s social services and should consider whether there is scope to reduce demand.

The committee also points to the high turnover and low retention of the children’s social care workforce which, it says, points to a system that isn’t working well. Children pay the price as professional relationships break down.

It urges the government to increase core funding in order to enable local authorities to ease the pressure facing social workers. It should better understand why social workers are leaving their roles and consider options, such as capping caseloads, to reduce the pressures on this workforce as a matter of urgency.

The independent sector constitutes a significant part of the children’s residential care market, and this comes at a financial cost to local authorities. There needs to be better commissioning and procurement, to improve the market for residential care and provide better value for money, the committee said.

The government should consider the barriers to creating more residential care placements to increase supply. A review of the commissioning and procurement system should be conducted by December 2019. The government and local authorities should introduce greater oversight of how different care placements affect outcomes for children and their value for money.

Rachel Dickinson, ADCS President, said: “The Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee, like countless others, has concluded that current funding for children’s services is insufficient. There is simply not enough money in the system to meet rising need in our communities. Funding for local authorities has been halved, since 2010, although we have worked hard to protect statutory services, we have had to scale back on support for children and families that prevents their needs from escalating and reduces future demand. Rising child poverty and greater prevalence of domestic abuse, poor parental mental health and substance misuse exacerbates the pressures already in the system. It is a vicious cycle. This is unacceptable and takes us to a place we are not professionally, or morally, comfortable with and far from the principles underpinning the Children Act 1989.

“In addition to helpfully setting out a series of financial and systemic recommendations for government, the Committee recognises several factors placing further pressure on already overstretched council budgets and services. Examples include, pressures on the social work workforce, delayed Home Office decision making and a lengthy and growing list of new responsibilities, many of which are not properly funded. Moreover, our preventative duties have never been sufficiently funded to enable us to work with families earlier, addressing needs as and when they arise. We hope the Treasury is listening and is ready to put children first," she added.

Funding of local authorities children's services

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