Children’s Commissioner demands clarity on councils’ duties

10 Sep 18

Thousands of children could miss out on care unless the government clarifies what councils must legally provide as they cut services, the Children’s Commissioner has told PF.

With some councils stripping services to a bare minimum, Anne Longfield warned they might not fully understand their statutory obligations to children and called for the government to act.

“There needs to be clarity around what the statutory minimum requirement is,” Longfield said.

“There are many hundreds of thousands of children who are deemed to be in need who we know are not getting any form of discernible support.”

She added: The consequences of them not getting support could be catastrophic.”

Anntoinette Bramble, chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, agreed and said cutbacks meant services were becoming “reactive” rather than preventative.

Prevention in children’s services is “cheaper in the long-run” for councils, Bramble pointed out. She called for a clear, universal intervention “threshold” to be drawn up.

Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield.

 

She told PF: “I think you do need more clarity around those statutory requirements as the level of intervention and thresholds is different across councils and it would be helpful if we had a universal threshold.”

The Children Act 1989 currently lets local authorities judge when they “have reasonable cause to suspect that a child in their area is suffering, or is likely to suffer significant harm”.

A survey by the National Children’s Bureau from September 2017 found that 70% of social workers said the threshold for qualifying as a “child in need” had risen over the last three years.

Matt Dunkley, chair of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services’ resources and sustainability policy committee, believed a lack of funding was the main issue facing children’s services, which he called “wholly unsustainable”.

He told PF that the Treasury should understand that “minimised services to children and their families does nothing to improve their outcomes, and only stores up financial and human costs for the future.”

Graham Atkins, research and lead on children’s services at the Institute for Government, predicted: “Local authorities – who cannot run deficits – will have to find efficiencies within children’s services or squeeze spending on other services they deliver, such as adult social care.”

PF has contacted the Department for Education for comment.

Councils that have cut back services to the bare legal minimum this year include Northamptonshire County Council and East Sussex County Council.

It was recently revealed that councils in England overspent on children’s services by £800m in the 2017–18 financial year.

 

Update Tuesday 11/09: 

A department of education spokesperson said: “We want every child to have the best start in life, with the opportunities and the stability to fulfil their potential, which is why we have made £200bn available to councils up to 2020 for local services including those for children and young people.

“We recently updated our statutory guidance, Working Together to Safeguard Children, to help local authorities fulfil their duty to keep children in their area safe and it has been drafted following their feedback.

“We are also investing more than £270m through our Partners in Practice and Innovation Programmes, providing councils and the voluntary and community sectors with funding and support to develop new and better ways of delivering services for vulnerable children and families.”

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