Focus on reunification could stem care rise

As 2018 draws to a close, funding across the entire children's sector has never felt more precarious.

The growing hole in children's services budgets - projected to be £3bn by 2025 - has led to dire warnings from the Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS) of deep cuts to early help support over the coming year. In the lead up to next autumn's comprehensive spending review (CSR), charities and children's services leaders will be lobbying the Treasury to loosen the purse strings in light of the government's claim that austerity is at an end.

The Budget did deliver an additional £84m to expand innovative projects to reduce the number of children in care (see analysis). However, ADCS president Stuart Gallimore dismissed it as "woefully short of the sustainable and equitable long-term investment strategy we need".

He's right, although anything that reduces numbers coming into care is welcome - earlier this month, the ADCS's Safeguarding Pressures report and, subsequently, the DfE's own official figures showed the number of looked-after children is at record levels. Closer inspection of the data reveals the rate that children are coming into the system is falling, but so too is the rate at which they leave - once in the system many are unable to exit.

This is where the £84m could make a real difference. North Yorkshire Council's No Wrong Door project is one of the initiatives that will be expanded to 20 councils with high care numbers over the next few years. Funded through the Children's Social Care Innovation Programme, No Wrong Door focuses on building relationships between children in and on the edge of care and their families. Young people get support from clinical psychologists to boost their resilience and achieve positive outcomes. Evaluation of the project shows that not only did it help keep 86 per cent of edge-of-care young people at home, but reduced the number of looked-after children by 15 per cent.

Lifelong Links, also funded through the innovation programme, is another project that helps children reconnect with members of birth families, which in time could lead to them leaving care (see feature). Initiatives such as these, done to the highest safeguarding standards, highlight the need for social workers to always consider reunification with families as part of the care planning process where it is in the best interests of children - and, in so doing, help reduce the numbers in the care system.

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