‘True impact of the pandemic on children’s services only starting to emerge’ says ADCS

Leaders say ‘whole system approach’ to investment in children’s services is needed, against a backdrop of rising numbers of children in care and a halving of real terms funding over the last decade.

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) has published figures from its ‘Safeguarding Pressures’ research, highlighting increases in the number of contacts made to children’s social care and the estimated number of children and young people in care.

The research is now in its seventh phase, which means data can be compared over a twelve-year period to give a long-term picture of the state of children’s social care.

The report found that on 31 March 2020, an estimated 2.44 million contacts were made to children’s social care in 2019/20, an increase of 94% since 2008 and an estimated 81,670 children and young people were in care, an increase of 8.2% since 2018.

The report also captured some of the impact of the pandemic on children’s services. Between April and June 2020, during the period of partial school closures, the research found there were an estimated 12.6% fewer referrals to children’s social care compared to the same quarter the previous year. There was, however, significant variation across the country, with referrals rising above average levels in some areas during the initial lockdown

It also found a 4% reduction in the number of public law cases in the family courts compared to the equivalent quarter in 2019 and a 52% reduction in the number of final Adoption Orders made.

The ADCS says cuts to the budgets of local authorities and other public agencies over the past decade have prevented children’s services and their partners from providing the kind of targeted, early support that allows children’s services to work with families more effectively to prevent them from reaching crisis point.

In 2019, the Local Government Association estimated that children’s social care alone was facing a £3.1 billion funding gap by March 2025. ADCS says that since the outbreak of the pandemic “the context in which children’s services operates has changed beyond what we could envisage and the real impact of Covid-19 on safeguarding children is only now starting to become apparent with predicted increases in referrals and complexity of need. “

This interim report shows that some local authorities are supporting children and families against a backdrop of significant increases in referrals to children’s social care, children coming into care, the rising number of unaccompanied asylum seeking children, and the number of care leavers. This is coupled with financial pressures mounting on local authorities, such as the transition to business rates retention and the associated lost income over the past year, or the increasing costs of private placements for children in care.

Jenny Coles, ADCS President, said: “This interim report highlights many of the issues that the Association has been raising with government for many years. The pressures on local authority children’s services are very real, although our workforce has worked tirelessly to support children and families during incredibly difficult circumstances, this research shows that the pandemic has had a drastic impact on our work with families.

“The true impact of the pandemic on children’s services is only starting to emerge and will remain with us throughout the next year and beyond."

Read the full report at www.adcs.org.uk

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