Early intervention 'reduces demand for child protection services'

By Neil Puffett

| 25 October 2012

Investment in early intervention is reducing demand for child protection services by up to 30 per cent in some local authorities, while other areas struggle to cope with huge increases in demand, research by the Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS) has found.

Debbie Jones says "whole system reform" is necessary to deal with increasing child protection demand. Image: Alex Deverill

The third phase of the organisation’s Safeguarding Pressures research found that although there has been an overall increase in demand nationally for child protection and care services, there is “significant variation” at local level.

While some authorities have experienced increases in demand for support of up to 100 per cent, others are experiencing decreases of 30 per cent or more.

The research found that the authorities that had seen a decrease in child protection activity attributed it to increasing early help services, better multi-agency working and finding children permanent placements faster.

Debbie Jones, ADCS president, said the research shows that services for protecting children must be viewed as part of a “wider system”, ranging from early help through to permanent homes for children in care.

“It is necessary to consider the whole system, rather than piecemeal reform, in order to successfully manage budgets to cope with increasing pressure,” she said.

“Time taken to make a decision or complete a process in one part of the system has knock-on effects in the rest of the system and the speed with which a child can be found a permanent home.”

Jones added that the impact that early intervention services have on demand varies in different areas, with some authorities finding that it is uncovering previously unmet need.

“This goes to show that early help services are not a quick fix or a magic bullet, but require sustained and sustainable funding over a number of years to have the effect that we are all seeking,” she said.

David Simmonds, chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said the research shows that early intervention can have a “significant impact” on safeguarding pressures.

He added that government plans to top-slice £150m from funding used to support disadvantaged children and families in each of the next two financial years risks “pushing councils into a cycle” where they are forced to cut non-statutory services, which will in turn, increase pressure on statutory services.

“We fear that a reduction in early intervention will inevitably lead to increased demand for more costly longer term or life-long interventions,” he said. “Early intervention not only leads to long-term cost savings for councils but also helps families to help themselves.”

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