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Children slipping deeper into crisis before being offered help

Children are having to fall deeper into crisis before they are offered any help from local services, a survey of social workers released this week has shown.

The research, conducted by the National Children’s Bureau (NCB) on behalf of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children (APPGC), surveyed 1,600 social workers in England.

Around 70% of respondents reported that the threshold for qualifying as a ‘child in need’ had sharply risen over the last five years, whilst 60% said that resources available to children’s services influenced decisions about whether to offer early help.

Social workers also said that thresholds for receiving more urgent support had risen, with half reporting that thresholds had risen for making children the subject of a child protection plan while 54% said the same about applying for a care order.

The research comes as the APPGC launches a new inquiry into thresholds for children’s social care following warnings that many councils were struggling to meet rising levels of demand in March.

It also follows analysis from the LGA that found that councils had exceeded children’s social care budgets by £605m last year.

Tim Loughton, chair of the APPGC, said: “This is an important piece of work providing extensive evidence from many social workers who deal with these issues day in day out across the country and must be addressed urgently by ministers.

“There is now a very real fear that intervention for an increasing number of children is being determined not by vulnerability and threat of harm but by finances and availability of support.”

Loughton also stated that children’s services was a “false economy”, both financially and socially, which can have a lasting impact on a child’s life chances.

“We risk entering a perfect storm where rising numbers of children in need, increasingly stretched social workers and a growing number of children’s services departments coming up wanting in inspections and having to focus on restructure, will inevitably mean more vulnerable children are unable to get the attention they need at the early stage when it can have the greatest impact,” he explained.

And Anna Feuchtwang, chief executive of the NCB, added: “This is further evidence that children’s social care is becoming an emergency service, as councils struggle to meet their statutory duties to vulnerable children with dwindling resources and rising need.

“Central government must act now, so that struggling families and children get the help when they need it, not just when they’re in immediate danger of harm.

“We also urge the government to think bigger and consider how changes to health, welfare and housing policy can create the right conditions for children to thrive.”

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