Child poverty rise set to raise pressure on overstretched social services, research finds

By Tristan Donovan

| 30 April 2018

Extra spending is needed to stop the predicted rise in child poverty causing England's overstretched children's social care services to deteriorate even further, the Education Policy Institute has warned.

Child poverty is projected to rise significantly over the next three years. Image: Varney

In a review of the state of children's social care, the independent research institute found that workforce instability, financial pressures and rising thresholds for intervention are damaging the ability of local authority social care services to support vulnerable children.

The institute's review found services were grappling with significant rises in demand for their services with child protection plans up 24 per cent and the number of looked-after children up nine per cent between 2010 and 2016. It also noted that 80 per cent of councils are overspending on children's social care with one in 10 set to run out of reserves within three years if this trend continues.

"Funding pressures for children and young people services on the whole may be reaching a particularly acute stage," the report warns.

The review also found evidence that the social care workforce is unstable with agency staff accounting for almost 20 per cent of children's social workers employed by local authorities. This is leading to looked-after children experiencing more changes of social workers and high caseloads, which the review says correlates with poor Ofsted ratings.

"The outlook for quality of provision - which is currently very poor - is concerning given the cumulative impact of years of local overspend and insecurity in the workforce," the report states.

It added that the projected rise in child poverty could place significantly more strain on services given that children in the most disadvantaged tenth of areas in the UK are at least ten times as likely as those in the richest areas to be in contact with children's services.

"If the risk of further deteriorating child outcomes is to be averted, services will need to be sufficiently resourced to tackle the underlying connections between poverty and child protection risk," it states.

The report also called for more data to be collected on children who fall under the social services' radar, outcomes for children and the experience of the 390,000 under-18s who are classed as children in need.

There also needs to be greater recognition of the link between social inequities and contact with children's social services, it concludes.

Stuart Gallimore, president of the Association of Directors of Children's Services, said local authorities have had no choice but to cut early help and preventative services.

"An increasing number of children are living in poverty and more and more families are going hungry or using food banks to survive," he said. "The long-term impact of this approach is incredibly short-sighted and unsustainable; if support services are no longer in place to deal with issues before they escalate then there will be huge financial and human costs in the long term.
 
"The growing prevalence and the impact of parental mental health, substance misuse and domestic abuse continues to be a major concern for our members and their teams. The current approach to funding children's services does not facilitate the focus we would like to see on addressing the root causes of these issues.

"Children's services are not, nor should we be, a blue light service, but after years of chronically under-resourcing these services our ability to improve outcomes for vulnerable children and families is in serious jeopardy."

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