Coping with the expected surge in children's services referrals

Deborah Jeremiah and Kirtpal Kaur Aujla
Monday, September 7, 2020

As we gradually emerge out of national lockdown and children begin to go back to school in September, there are widespread concerns that agencies will see a surge of safeguarding and concerns raised.

The situation in existing caseloads may have deteriorated significantly through stagnation; many new cases will yet to be processed. There has been major disruption to children’s education and some have experienced anxiety and mental health challenges for the first time.

Other grounds and factors are likely to include an increase of domestic abuse; increased mental health needs across age groups; and the impact of reduced access to universal services together with the recessional financial impact of the pandemic upon services and families.

How agencies respond within the bounds of their statutory duties and well documented resource limitations to such a potentially difficult situation will be critically important. Whilst there are certainly no easy answers, a checklist of immediate actions and priorities would sensibly include:

  • Review current caseloads for child protection and develop a robust strategy on how to resource the catch up work
  • Put senior and experienced social workers in the frontline of child protection so that good decisions can be made quickly and risk assessments of new cases coming in are of high quality
  • Review front door triage service to improve oversight and governance and professional curiosity
  • Increase and formalise supervision for child protection work
  • Communicate and information share with education and external agencies to wrap around the child effectively
  • Have a robust well-circulated multi-agency escalation policy that deals with professional differences of opinion on risk and response to a child.

Another solution that those with a longer view may wish to consider is a broader review of service structuring and a range of options for seeking innovation and transformation in social care practice.

There is a broad spectrum of options to drive innovation and transformation within an authority, ranging from strategic partnerships with other authorities to seeking to incorporate reform of key service areas through development of early help and prevention programmes. The latter will be key to building an authority’s organisational resilience to ongoing challenges in safeguarding those on the cusp of social care intervention.

In recent years, Alternative Delivery Models (ADM) have been established in 10 local authority areas either voluntarily or pursuant to varying forms of Department for Education intervention, with more in the planning stage. There has been learning from these early pioneers along the way. As evidence and experience is shared and disseminated, more local authorities may want to consider the various models and potential benefits.

The key feature of an ADM is that it establishes a bespoke entity and new identity for the provision of children’s services within the authority’s footprint. This may be a new entity with a corporate board that is operationally independent from the authority – a new executive leadership to drive transformation. The local authority will effectively commission services from a new company that will be contractually accountable as regards specification, performance, finance and governance.

In the short term, all professionals involved with the safeguarding and welfare of children are likely to have a far greater workload as the effects of the pandemic and lockdown become clearer. Collaboration between professionals, effective information sharing between agencies, and prioritisation of resources on the most urgent cases are sure to be key. The experience, dedication and resilience of children’s services professionals will be needed like never before.

Deborah Jeremiah is an associate, and Kirtpal Kaur Aujla, a partner at law firm Bevan Brittan LLP

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