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Underfunding leading to vulnerable children being overlooked

A children’s charity has this week raised concerns that vulnerable children are being overlooked by the current care system.

In its report “Revolving door: Are vulnerable children overlooked?” charity Action for Children found that over 180,000 children referred to social services did not meet the threshold to receive support as they were not deemed to be at risk.

But the charity has said that many of these children live in environments with parents suffering from domestic abuse and substance misuse, and that though a quarter of those referred were signposted to child services, three in four were not given any further help.

Action for Children argues this means that thousands of children in the UK who may be at risk are being overlooked by the care system.

“Years of austerity and budget cuts mean that often essential support services to tackle problems early are no longer available,” the report stated.

“Action for Children’s ambition is that every child who needs help, gets help. We are calling on the government to take urgent action: to strengthen the statutory framework for early help services and provide adequate funding to local authorities so they can provide help as soon as children need it.

“This is what is best for children, best for families, and best for local authorities who are then able to help families address the root cause of problems, not just fight fires.”

Services for vulnerable children at breaking point

Council leaders praised the report for rightly recognising the increased pressures facing local authorities when it came to protecting vulnerable children.

Cllr Richard Watts, chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “As a result of funding cuts and huge increases in demand for services, the reality is that services for the care and protection of vulnerable children are now, in many areas, being pushed to breaking point.

“The number of referrals to local authority children’s services has increased by almost 9% over the past decade, while the number of children placed on a child protection plan as a result of those referrals has increased by more than 90%.

“This demonstrates the increasing level of need that councils are seeing, and the significant efforts they are taking to ensure that children are robustly protected.”

Cllr Watts added that not all referrals will need a formal intervention however, and referrals closed with no further action will not necessarily leave a child in need.

“It is important that local authorities and their partners work closely to help children and families to access the support they need when they need it, whether that requires intervention from social services or not,” he continued.

“But we know that reduced funding for local services has left fewer resources to invest in early intervention, and Action for Children are right to highlight the significant challenge facing all agencies in making sure families can get help before problems become more serious.”

One of the funds that has been cut includes the Early Intervention Grant, which has been reduced by £500m since 2013, and will drop by a further £183m by 2020, Cllr Watt explained.

“This has exacerbated a difficult situation where councils cannot afford to withdraw services for children in immediate need of protection to invest in early help instead,” he continued.

“Councils are doing everything they can to respond to the significant underfunding in children’s social care, including protecting budgets, reducing costs where they can and finding new ways of working.

“However, they are at the point where there are very few savings left to find without having a real and lasting impact upon crucial services that many children and families across the country desperately rely on.”

“Councils are facing a £2 billion funding gap for children’s services in just three years’ time. It’s more important than ever that the Government commits to the life chances of children and young people by acting urgently to address the growing funding gap.”

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