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Children's services reach 'breaking point'

Growing evidence of the crisis facing the funding of children's services emerged this week as a committee of MPs stated that children's services are at 'breaking point'.

The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee has said that increased demand alongside financial pressures are pushing children's services into crisis.

Indeed, Children First recently reported on the pressures facing children's services as five of the largest children’s charities warned that that thousands of children and young people could fall into crisis if cuts to children’s services continue while a separate survey of council leaders found that children’s services and education is the top immediate financial pressure they face amid cuts and financial uncertainty.

Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee Chair, Clive Betts MP, said: “Supporting vulnerable children is one of the most important duties that local authorities provide. It is vital that we have the right support available in every part of the country, to ensure that vulnerable children get the support they need. Over the last decade we have seen a steady increase in the number of children needing support, whilst at the same time funding has failed to keep up."

Ahead of the 2019 Spending Review, the report calls for a funding settlement that reflects the challenges local authorities face in delivering children’s social care, and recommends a minimum increase to core grant funding of £3.1 billion up until 2025. The government should also announce a successor programme to the Troubled Families Programme in advance of the 2019 Spending Review to provide local authorities with certainty over their long-term funding streams beyond 2020.

The report says that while local authorities are responding to financial and service pressures by prioritising child protection work and reducing spending on non-statutory children’s services, the majority are still overspending their annual budgets.

However, increased funding alone will not lead to a sustainable children’s services, the committee warns, and says that systemic and strategic changes are also required. The government should review the key factors driving demand children’s social services, as between 2008 and 2018, the number of looked after children increased from 59,400 to 75,420. It should consider whether there is scope to reduce demand.

The children's social care workforce needs better supporting given the high rates of turnover which can have a detrimental impact on children's relationships with their social workers. The government should increase core funding in order to enable local authorities to ease the pressure facing social workers and should better understand why social workers are leaving their roles and consider options for lessening the load on the workforce such as limiting caseloads.

It adds that the independent sector constitutes a significant part of the children’s residential care market, and this comes at a financial cost to local authorities. The government should consider the barriers to creating more residential care placements to increase supply.

Clive Betts added: "It is clear that this approach cannot be sustained, and the Government must make serious financial and systemic changes to support local authorities in helping vulnerable children. They must understand why demand is increasing and whether it can be reduced. They must ensure that the funding formula actually allows local authorities to meet the obligations for supporting children that the government places on them.

“We have reached a crisis point and action is needed now.”

Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: "These are absolutely vital council services in desperate need of significant and sustained long-term investment, which keep children and young people safe from harm and the worst abuses of society.

“However, as the LGA and the sector have long warned, children’s services are at a tipping point as a result of increasingly high levels of demand for support and cuts in central government funding.

“The fact that nine in 10 councils overspent their budgets on children’s social care in 2017/18 indicates the huge financial pressures councils all over the country are under to support vulnerable children and young people.

“Councils have also played a pivotal role in making the Troubled Families Programme a success for some of the most vulnerable families, and it is good that the Committee supports the need to continue this vital service through a successor programme," she added.

Rachel Dickinson, ADCS President, added: “The Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee, like countless others, has concluded that current funding for children’s services is insufficient. There is simply not enough money in the system to meet rising need in our communities. Funding for local authorities has been halved, since 2010, although we have worked hard to protect statutory services, we have had to scale back on support for children and families that prevents their needs from escalating and reduces future demand. Rising child poverty and greater prevalence of domestic abuse, poor parental mental health and substance misuse exacerbates the pressures already in the system. It is a vicious cycle. This is unacceptable and takes us to a place we are not professionally, or morally, comfortable with and far from the principles underpinning the Children Act 1989.

“In addition to helpfully setting out a series of financial and systemic recommendations for government, the Committee recognises several factors placing further pressure on already overstretched council budgets and services. Examples include, pressures on the social work workforce, delayed Home Office decision making and a lengthy and growing list of new responsibilities, many of which are not properly funded. Moreover, our preventative duties have never been sufficiently funded to enable us to work with families earlier, addressing needs as and when they arise. We hope the Treasury is listening and is ready to put children first," she concluded.

Funding of local authorities' children's services

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