Funding cuts putting child protection at risk, warn MPs

6 Nov 12
Reductions in local government funding could lead to some abused children falling through the social services net, MPs warned today.
By Richard Johnstone | 7 November 2012

Reductions in local government funding could lead to some abused children falling through the social services net, MPs warned today.

Following a year-long examination of the care system for children in England, the Commons education select committee urged the government to do more to ‘measure the impact’ of funding reductions on child protection services.

Council spending is being reduced by 28% over the current Comprehensive Spending Review period, which ends in 2014/15.

Town halls have so far made ‘strenuous efforts’ to minimise the impact of cuts on their child protection services, the MPs said, but this might prove ‘difficult, if not impossible, to maintain’ in future years.

The Children First report said there were ‘anecdotal accounts’ of cuts prompting authorities to raise thresholds for social work interventions, such as taking children into care. There were ‘real fears that local authorities may be forced down this path’ in the future, the report added.

‘While the range of additional services on offer may be reduced in the current climate, we do not believe that it would be acceptable to anyone, including local authorities, not to offer protection to abused children because of budget constraints.

‘We recommend that the government commission work to monitor the impact of the current economic situation and cuts in local authority services on child safeguarding.’

Much closer monitoring of how care thresholds were applied across authorities should also be undertaken, particularly in relation to how councils decide if a child is in need of social work support or more immediate protection by being taken into care. Ofsted should monitor and report on the variation between local authorities over time, the MPs recommended.

Launching the report, committee chair Graham Stuart said there had been ‘real improvement among professionals’ in recent years, and he backed the ‘direction of travel’ set out by the Munro Review for social workers.

However, ‘there is a lot more to do and there are risks to the progress made’, he added.

‘Whatever your view on the cuts, it is essential that the children in our society most vulnerable to abuse and exploitation are not the ones to pay the price. These children must be first and foremost in the minds of councillors and ministers so that the welcome improvements we have seen over recent years are maintained and built upon.’

Responding to the report, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services said the committee had ‘identified some key issues that local authorities are tackling up and down the country’.

President Debbie Jones said:Definitions of neglect, challenges in supporting older children at risk and the question of thresholds are all complex areas with no easy answers.

‘We welcome the committee's findings that local authorities are making significant changes while trying to protect child protection budgets and manage the continued rise in children needing protection, as shown in our recent research. In order to make the most of available resources, all local agencies and central government must be clear about their responsibilities and have a coherent approach, and we have particular concerns about the health service's contribution to safeguarding.’

An Ofsted spokeswoman said the committee recognised the importance of the watchdog’s role in supporting and assuring improvement in the quality of child protection services.

She added: ‘We will consider the recommendations relating to Ofsted very carefully and respond in due course.’



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