Children’s services at ‘tipping point’ as austerity agenda continues

Council children’s services are nearing a “tipping point” as rates of referrals for suspected abuse continue to rise without a corresponding increase in funding, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) has warned.

The latest Safeguarding Pressures report from the ADCS showed that in 2015-16, there were 2.19 million initial contacts to children’s social care, an increase of 53% since 2007-08.

In the same period, referrals to children’s social care increased by 12%, child protection plans increased by 78%, and children taken into care increased by over a third.

Furthermore, two-fifths of respondents to the report expected safeguarding activity would continue to rise, although 25% predicted a reduction, in large part due to different methods of working.

Dave Hill, president of ADCS, said: “There’s a growing sense that we are approaching a tipping point that, if reached, will impact generations of children. We owe it to the children, young people and families in our communities to address these issues before it’s too late.”

Nearly all the local authorities said they had experienced budget cuts, and almost half experienced continued and increasing difficulties in recruiting frontline staff.

Hill said the impact of austerity combined with rising demand “could not be understated”, and that efforts to make up for the shortfall by targeting areas of most need would become “much more challenging” with further funding cuts expected.

He also called for action to reduce the number of referrals by tackling the “root causes” of child abuse. These include the “toxic trio” of parental mental health, substance misuse and domestic abuse, which is present in 65-80% of children’s services interventions.

In 2014-15, there were 3.9 million children living in poverty, and by March 2016, 72,000 households with dependent children were in temporary accommodation. The government’s own figures show that up to 26% of children could be living in poverty by 2020-21.

For the first time, ADCS asked councils to submit data on the number of children in their area at risk of child sexual exploitation. Methods of gathering information varied, but an estimated 13,000 children were identified as being at risk.

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