ADCS calls for review of local authority child protection obligations

Neil Puffett
Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Legislation setting out local authority duties to vulnerable children should be reviewed as part of a major shake-up to how children's services are provided amid increase in demand and a continued squeeze on budgets, the Association of Directors of Children's Services has said.

A policy statement published by the organisation today, calls for a review of Section 17 of the Children Act 1989, under which local authorities have a general duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children within their area who are classed as "in need".

Under the legislation, councils are required to "promote the upbringing of such children by their families, by providing a range and level of services appropriate to those children's needs".

Children classed as "in need" include disabled children, and those who are unlikely to achieve a reasonable standard of health or development, without the provision of appropriate services.

The policy statement, A Country That Works for All Children, does not contain any detail on what changes to the legislation that the ADCS would like to see. However, it does say that as part of the review of Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 it wants government to "reaffirm its commitment to preventative services for children, young people and families".

Department for Education statistics show that, as of March 2016, there were 394,400 "children in need" across England, up from 391,000 in 2015. The call for a rethink on existing legislative requirements comes as the number of children in care this year rose at the fastest rate in five years.

The ADCS, is keen for greater investment in early help services in order to reduce demand on statutory child protection services.

Alongside a review of children in need obligations, the policy statement also calls for a separate review to be held into the impact of rising child poverty levels, and any possible links with rising demand for child protection services. It suggests that the findings could form part of a child poverty strategy for England.

The policy paper also urges government to "act quickly" to address the £2bn funding gap in children's services that the Local Government Association has estimated will exist by 2020.

"Providing help and support to children and families early is the only way to reduce demand for high end statutory services and health and social care in the long run, not doing so is a false economy and, fundamentally, is not in children and young people's best interests," ADCS president Alison Michalska said.

"In a country that works for all children meeting children's needs and improving their outcomes would be at the core of all public policy.  Government would take a long-term strategic view of how we invest in our public services, particularly early help services. This is what we should aspire for, this is what our children truly deserve."

The ADCS also calls for:

  • The development of a coherent workforce strategy for the totality of children's services, from teaching staff, social workers and residential care staff to health visitors and child psychiatrists
  • The development of a new "children and young people impact assessment" for government departments and other public bodies to use alongside existing equalities impact assessments
  • Policy co-ordination and a "marshalling of resources" across government departments with responsibilities for different aspects of children's lives, with future investment focused on achieving a coherent preventative approach to improving children's outcomes
  • A more coherent, cross-government early years strategy, with the Department of Health and the Department for Education coming together with the Department for Work and Pensions to "clearly articulate a vision for the early years". Help with childcare to be targeted on the most vulnerable children and families and the parental income limit for 30-hours childcare should be reviewed. Available funding to be spent on those who are socially and economically disadvantaged
  • Government to ensure that funding for children's mental health and wellbeing services is having the desired impact. All local transformation plans should include expenditure relating to CAMHS, signed off by local health and wellbeing boards.