Extent of rising demand on children's services revealed by ADCS research

Derren Hayes
Wednesday, November 2, 2022

There was a significant rise in the number of initial contacts received, early help assessments carried out and child protection enquiries undertaken by children’s services departments in the past two years, latest analysis from the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) shows.

There has been a rise in child protection enquiries since the start of the pandemic. Picture: WaveBreakMedia/AdobeStock
There has been a rise in child protection enquiries since the start of the pandemic. Picture: WaveBreakMedia/AdobeStock

The interim findings from the eighth phase of the ADCS Safeguarding Pressures research reveals the damaging impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on children’s lives since 2020 and how this has seen demand rise across a range of children’s services.

The interim report finds that:

  • 77 million initial contacts were received at the ‘front door’ to children’s services in 2021/22, an increase of 10 per cent in the last two years
  • An estimated 282,320 early help assessments took place in 2021/22, a 16 per cent increase in the past two years
  • 217,800 section 47 child protection enquiries were undertaken in England in 2021/22, an increase of seven per cent in the last two years.

The research draws on qualitative and quantitative data from 125 local authorities, covering 83 per cent of England’s child population, from 1 April 2020 to 31 March 2022.

It also reveals that over the past 15 years, when the data was first collected, referrals to children’s social care in England have risen by a fifth to now stand at 650,000, while child protection enquiries have risen by 184 per cent over the same period.

The ADCS calculates the annual budget gap in children’s services now stands at £778m. It says separate pots of grant funding and local authority investment over the past two years have helped alleviate some of the demand pressures, but warns that “significant, long-term funding” is required to keep pace with anticipated demand.

Steve Crocker, ADCS president 2022/23, said: “More families are experiencing hardship, or have reached crisis, and we know that there is a strong correlation between poverty, deprivation and involvement with children’s social care.  With the cost-of-living crisis beginning to bite many more children and families will fall into poverty.

“Local authority children’s services are responding to needs which, under normal circumstances, should have been met earlier in the system and not escalated to the point of crisis. Funding is not keeping pace with this reality, neither are the foundations needed to make the system a success, such as workforce, placements, legislation and regulation.

“We are at a critical juncture in children’s services, there are many challenges highlighted in the interim report, from insufficient funding, workforce shortages and a dysfunctional care placement market, but there are also real and present opportunities for us to make the system work better if the investment from government is forthcoming.”

The association also published separate analysis showing how the dramatic rise in children’s mental health needs threatens to “overwhelm” the social care system.


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