Children’s services need £824 million investment just to ‘stay still’

ADCS says urgent investment is needed as a 50% real-terms fall in local government funding over the last decade means children’s social care is reaching ‘crisis point’.

24/02/21

Children’s services need £824 million investment just to ‘stay still’

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) has published today (24 February 2021) the full report of its Safeguarding Pressures research, warning that significant investment is needed to prevent children’s social care from reaching “crisis point”.

“The impact of budget constraints and future funding uncertainty on local authority children’s services cannot be underestimated,” the report said.

Of the 129 councils in the research, only five authorities projected no overspend and only one reported a projected underspend. Extrapolated to all 151 local authorities, the total funding required to close the budget gap is now £824.1m in one year just to ‘stay still’.

Nearly half (44%) of councils said they had a decrease in their funding, with figures for this reduction ranging between 15% and 30%.

Financial returns also showed an 8% increase in the total spent on looked after children in 2020 to £5.3 billion with placement costs soaring, specifically costs for independent fostering agencies and independent residential care.

The budget pressures faced by councils was found to be having a marked effect on their early help offers.

All respondents agreed that the Troubled Families Programme has “propped up” the delivery of early help in local authorities.

Respondents in the report said that any reduction or withdrawal of this funding, which is currently due to cease in March 2022, would “decimate” their early help offers.

The report collected data from 129 local authorities in England and interviews with leaders to better understand changes in demand for, and provision of, children’s social care and associated services.

For the first time, the report also captured some of the impact of the pandemic on children’s services, and found more referred children who were not previously known to social care services.

Up to 30 September 2020, an estimated 81,900 children were in care – an increase of 6% since 2018/19

There were also an estimated 284,400 referrals to children’s social care, with a 4% increase in children who were subjects of child protection plans compared to the same period last year.

“Families who were just about managing pre-pandemic and would not normally come to the attention of social care were now in need of significant help,” the report stated.

“More children were presenting at a later stage, once issues were complex and entrenched, and then immediately becoming subjects of child protection plans or proceedings.”

The report did find that “creative uses of technology” had been harnessed to engage and support children, families and professionals during the pandemic, with an increase in professionals attending virtual case conferences.

However, “digital poverty”, together with “not knowing what is happening behind the camera” carried additional problems, the report said.

“A year of disruption is impacting on children’s physical, mental and emotional health and wellbeing as well as their education,” said ADCS President Jenny Coles.

“We are already starting to see a new cohort of families in distress that we have not worked with before requiring our help and support.

“However, the true effect of the pandemic on children, families and children’s services is not yet known and will be felt for many years to come.

“The government must provide the sector with a sustainable, equitable and long-term financial settlement that enables children to thrive, not just survive in the wake of the pandemic by supporting them early. We are all committed to making this a country that works for all children, we urgently need the backing of government to make this happen.”

Read the full report: https://adcs.org.uk/

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