Thursday, 8 November 2018

The Crisis in Children’s Services in England

Hard on the heels of recent discussions concerning the working conditions of children’s social workers in Britain, comes more confirmation of the dire state of children’s services in the age of austerity.

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) has released its sixth annual report of Safeguarding Pressures research covering the financial year 2017/18. It concludes (page 119) that over the ten year period covered by the six phases of the research, there were:
  • More initial contacts with children and families  - up by 78% 
  • More referrals - up by 22%
  • More Section 47 enquiries (investigations into concerns of significant harm to children) - up by an eye-watering 159%
  • More children being made the subjects of child protection plans - up by 87%
  • More children who are looked after by the local authority - up by 24% 
The report notes that “These increases are higher than the growth in child population alone could account for and increases in 2017/18 have been greater than the previous year.” (page 119)

Commenting on the funding position the report notes:

“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. This situation is simply not tenable with many respondents and other sources stating that services can no longer be protected going forward. The tipping point has been reached.” (page 120)

As part of its coverage of these findings on 6thNovember 2018, the BBC Radio 4’s PM programme had interviews with LSE professors Eileen Munro and Martin Knapp. 

Munro said that  children’s services have had 'gigantic' funding cuts, and have more to come, and face rising caseloads. She went on to say that that in order to do good work social workers have to be able to spend time with families and they need to have time to think about what they do. That was not possible if they were overworked and under-funded.

Knapp said that there was strong research evidence that early intervention services (which have been hit hardest by spending cuts) result in considerable economic payoffs, which in the long run reduce the costs of late intervention, such as taking a child into care. However, he saw no signs that the government was willing to accept this argument and that cuts to preventative services were seen by ministers as being an easy option. The BBC interviewer, Evan Davis, summarising Knapp’s comments, described what was happening as “bonkers budgeting”. 

Interestingly no government minister was available to appear on the show.

The ADCS and people like Professors Munro and Knapp are not hysterics. They are not serial purveyors of doom or professional shroud waivers. What they say is based on hard facts and sensible analysis. And what they are saying is that there is now a crisis in children’s services. Government cannot just go on and on cutting and cutting resources while demand for services increases unremittingly. The ‘tipping point’ (to use the phrase used in the ADCS report) has been reached.

But there is no evidence that government is taking this seriously. Ministers seem to be carrying on with business as usual while the pressure cooker that is children’s services in England reaches the point of explosion. Rather than uttering platitudes and pretending that there is no crisis, ministers need to act decisively and quickly to prevent disaster.