MPs and peers to probe children's services cuts

By Neil Puffett

| 04 February 2016

An inquiry into local authority children's social care and the impact of major spending cuts in recent years is to be conducted by MPs and peers, it has been announced.

Local authorities have experienced significant cuts to funding from central government since 2010. Picture: Morguefile

The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children (APPGC) said that as well as exploring how services are responding to reduced funding and increased demand, it will also assess what reforms are needed in order to improve support for vulnerable children.

In October it emerged that the number of children subject to child protection plans because they are deemed to be at risk of abuse is continuing to rise. At the end of March 2015 there were 49,700 children on a child protection plan – a 27.1 per cent increase since March 2010 when there were 39,100 children on child protection plans.

However spending in many areas is dropping as a result of central government cuts. Last July a joint investigation by CYP Now, the National Children's Bureau (NCB), and The Children's Society, found that local authorities were set to cut spending on early intervention by more than eight per cent in 2015/16 – on the back of cuts in grant funding of 55 per cent under the coalition government.

Conservative MP and former children's minister Tim Loughton, who is co-chair of the APPGC, said that due to the introduction of widespread reforms, a new inspection framework and changes to demand and resourcing, "there is an urgent need to establish how local services are adapting to the new climate".

"Of course local authority providers face barriers to delivering effective services for children, but they also innovate and we hope this inquiry will provide a means of sharing that learning, as well as showing where policy and legislation must change," he said.

Cross-bench peer Baroness Howarth of Breckland, who is also co-chair, said: "Over the next months, we will hear from local services about exactly how the needs of families, children and young people are changing and whether the resourcing is adequate to meet these challenges.

"With so many children who are facing difficulties depending on these services being effective and timely, these questions must be answered urgently."

Roy Perry, chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said that high-profile crimes of abuse and neglect means that there are now thousands more children on the radar of social services now.

"Councils are currently supporting over 49,700 children on child protection plans, an increase of more than 20,000 since 2008," he said.

"It is absolutely vital that they and partner agencies have the resources needed to deal with this huge increase in demand."

Last year the Department for Education commissioned its own study into the spending habits of local authority children’s services departments ahead of expected central government cuts being announced in November.

The research had been due to be completed in October so its findings could be considered prior to the Spending Review on 25 November. However, in December, responding to a Freedom of Information request by CYP Now, the DfE said it was "unable" to supply a copy of the report as it was "still being drafted".

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