Councils under pressure as child protection needs mount
By Richard Johnstone | 25 October 2012
Pressure on council children’s services is mounting as more children are taken into care, a local authority survey has shown.
The poll of 155 English authorities by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services found the number of looked-after children rose by 4.5% in 2011/12 over the previous year. There was also a 7.9% increase in the number of child protection plans.
Within this were ‘significant variations’ between councils, with some reporting an increase of up to 100% in some types of child protection activity.
This follows a record number of children’s care referrals in the year to March
, with neglect cited as the main reason. Between 2007/08 and 2011/12, there was a 51.1% increase in children becoming subject of a child protection plan.
A majority of directors in today’s survey fear these pressures will rise in future years. But the effect on councils varies, the ADCS said, due to the nature and size of their populations, historic levels of demand and the strategies being implemented to cope with rising demand.
Local authorities were attempting to find imaginative solutions, the survey showed. Almost all were exploring early help services but with ‘variable success’. Only 35% of respondents said that early intervention had started to affect safeguarding activity. For some, it had helped to reduce pressure but for it had led to an increase in cases as a result of uncovering unmet demand.
The ADCS said it was ‘too early to say’ if early intervention was working, but there was consensus that it offered a chance of reducing demand in the longer term. The association called for ‘sustained and sufficient funding’ for these services to allow local authorities to better develop them while also meeting their statutory duties to those in need of help or protection.
ADCS president Debbie Jones said the survey showed it was ‘necessary to consider the whole system, rather than piecemeal reform, in order to successfully manage budgets to cope with increasing pressure’.
She added: ‘Directors of children’s services are seeing some reduction in child protection concerns due to early intervention. This goes to show that early help services are not a quick fix or a magic bullet, but require sustained and sustainable funding over a number of years to have the effect that we are all seeking.’
Responding to the survey, the Local Government Association said it backed up the argument that effective early help could make a real difference for families over time in ways that could reduce the need for child protection interventions.
David Simmonds, chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: ‘It makes clear that early intervention can have a significant impact on safeguarding pressures, but the government is cutting the very fund which pays for this early help.’
He criticised the government’s decision to top slice £150m in each of the next two financial years from funding to support disadvantaged children and families. ‘We fear that a reduction in early intervention will inevitably lead to increased demand for more costly longer term or lifelong interventions. Early intervention not only leads to long-term cost savings for councils but also helps families to help themselves.’