Appearing before the education select committee today, experts from within the sector blamed cuts to early intervention support services for increases in referrals to local authority children’s services departments.
Ray Jones, professor of social work at Kingston University, said prevention and early intervention services are “being decimated”.
“Family support services are being decimated at the moment, children’s centre are closing, funding for voluntary organisations like Home Start is being turned off,” he said.
“We are escalating the families into the child protection [system] because that’s the only resource that we now have for those children. It’s threatening for families and children. It’s demoralising for social workers and we are overheating the child protection system.”
Most recent government statistics show that numbers of children subject to child protection plans because they are deemed to be at risk of abuse are continuing to rise.
At the end of March 2015 there were 49,700, a 2.9 per cent increase on the same point in 2014 when the total stood at 48,300. The figure has risen by 27.1 per cent since March 2010.
Earlier this month the number of applications for children to be taken into the care system in England hit an all-time high. In February a total of 1,225 care applications were made – an increase of 9.4 per cent, or 105 applications, on the previous record of 1,120 recorded in July 2015.
Roy Perry, chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, told MPs that there is a “serious shortage of resources”.
"Prevention is clearly better than cure, so putting money into early services is important," he said.
"In my own council and a lot of council's across England there is worry that there are less resources available for youth work, for youth clubs, for family support work and children's centres.
"The resources need to be targeted and focused more clearly. The issue, of course, is that certainly councils are having to protect their investment in child social workers and social work teams. That does mean that there are quite frankly less resources available for those other activities."
Barbara Peacock, co-chair of the south east region of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), said local authorities receive more referrals because organisations that provide support to families are struggling.
“I think some of our partners we work with are really concerned about children, and some of them, because they have less resource to do some of the wrap-around that they would have done in the past are seeking to refer it in because, in many ways, social workers act as a backstop,” she said.
“If you don’t know where else to go and you are worried about a child you pass it in to social services in terms of supporting that child. So we are seeing the stress in the system and more referrals coming through.”
The education select committee is currently conducting an inquiry into social work reform.