In her keynote address to the ADCS annual conference in Manchester, Alison O’Sullivan said local government leaders have worked hard to minimise the impact of reducing resources while managing increases in demand but are now dealing with a “ticking time bomb”.
She said the full impact of recent cuts to local authority funding are not yet well understood because many of the changes being made are “complex to implement and take time”.
“The impact will not wash through the system for another one, two, or three years,” O’Sullivan told delegates. “And at the same time further cuts will need to be made.
“There is a looming crisis in relation to our ability to keep a balance in the system between investment in early help and the costs of late intervention.
“Government needs to monitor this very closely and consider if steps will need to be taken to ensure we do not do irreversible damage to our ability to prevent serious harm occurring.”
O’Sullivan’s stark warning comes just days after an investigation by CYP Now, the National Children’s Bureau and The Children’s Society found that government funding for early intervention work more than halved under the coalition government.
The investigation found that early intervention spending by councils is likely to fall by a further eight per cent in the current financial year (2015/16).
Speaking to CYP Now after her speech, O’Sullivan said government plans to cut welfare spending by 12bn over the next three years, outlined by Chancellor George Osborne in the Budget on Wednesday, could increase demand on children’s services departments yet further.
“There is some evidence that for families who are already under pressure, suffering loss of income through changes to the benefit system will intensify some of those problems,” she said.
“We know there is a link between prevalence of deprivation and poverty, and difficulties in caring for children.”
O’Sullivan also used her speech to make a fresh call for reform of the way children’s services departments are inspected.
She described Ofsted’s current single inspection framework (SIF) as “broken and discredited”.
“It is burdensome and disproportionately consumes the resources of both the inspectors and inspected,” she said.
“It’s clear that Ofsted does not have the resources to complete the current round of SIF inspections so they should be set aside now and replaced with something better.”
She said the “something better” should not simply be the planned introduction of targeted multi-agency inspections in the autumn that will run alongside the existing single inspection framework.
“We need to redesign the arrangements as a whole, and do it now,” she said.
O’Sullivan also spoke about the need for further reform of social work training to help drive up the quality and consistency of practice. “We are not training as many social workers as we need and too few remain in work after they’ve qualified,” she said.
“Some of this can be addressed by the mechanisms which are being introduced by the chief social worker [Isabelle Trowler], but I believe there needs to be a fundamental rethink of how we incentivise the right people to become social workers.
“As part of this we should shift the way in which bursaries are awarded to be locally controlled in order that the arrangements can be tuned to the circumstances of particular regional markets."