Audit, Inspection and Safety

25.01.19

More children ‘exposed to neglect or abuse’ due to government’s failures in understanding surge in children’s services

Children in need of help or protection are being exposed to neglect, abuse, or harm because of the Department for Education’s (DfE) lack of action and failure to understand the factors behind rapidly growing demand in children’s social care, according to a damming report.

The National Audit Office (NAO) found that nearly every local council in England overspent on children’s social care last year, and local authorities are expected to spend £4.2bn on children in care in 2018-19.

Back in 2016, the Public Accounts Committee concluded that the DfE seemed “worryingly complacent” that nothing could be done to improve children’s services more quickly, and said it lacked a credible plan for how and when it would intervene.

In the two years since, the department has “made poor progress” in improving children’s social care services and “lacks a well-informed pathway” to improve the situation.

The DfE’s latest target is for all vulnerable children across the country to have access to high-quality support by 2022.

The NAO said that whilst it has put a programme of reform in place, the DfE still does not understand what is driving the demand for children’s social care or why there is such variation between local authorities in demand and costs.

“While the Department has recognised the need for this analysis, it will not complete the work until summer 2019. Even if its analysis is completed successfully it will be a tall order for the Department to achieve its goal within three years.”

The report also reveals that there has been 77% surge in child protection assessments carried out since 2010-11, as well as a 15% increase in the number of serious or expensive cases of children being taken into care, with the figures far outstripping the rate of population growth.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said that two years after it reported the DfE was “not up to scratch”, it “has started to build its understanding of variations in services, but it should know more than it does.”

He added: “Even with this understanding, the department faces a tall order to achieve its goal within three years.”

Image credit - PeopleImages

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