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Government urged to strengthen statutory framework for early help services

A charity has warned that high care thresholds are leaving vulnerable children and families without crucial support.

Action for Children is highlighting the ‘revolving door’ of children who are referred to social care following concerns, assessed and then having the case closed due to high thresholds for services in a climate of cuts.

Years of austerity and budget cuts mean that essential support services to tackle problems early are no longer available. This has resulted in three in four cases which are closed not being referred on for any early help.

The charity estimates that there are around 140,000 children who do not meet the threshold for statutory support, yet their needs are too great for universal services such as schools and health.

However, it can result in a ‘revolving door’ into social care whereby children are assessed and the case closed until problems become so extreme that families reach crisis point and make the threshold for support services to kick in.

This can, however, leave vulnerable children languishing in unsuitable family environments for years and living with parents with substance abuse, mental health problems or domestic violence and may themselves be a victim of abuse or neglect.

Action for Children is calling on the government to strengthen the statutory framework for early help services and provide adequate funding to local authorities so they can provide help as soon as children need it.

“We are concerned that there are an estimated 140,000 children who are not getting the support they need. These children have needs that are too great for schools, health or other universal services to meet on their own, but they are not eligible for support from statutory social care services,” said the report. “Although they do not require a statutory response, we fear that this situation still leaves children vulnerable.”

“Our research suggests many are living in challenging family situations, affected by issues like domestic violence or substance misuse. Without the right help, there’s potential for these situations to escalate to crisis point, placing children at risk of harm.

Action for Children is calling on the government to:

  • Strengthen the statutory framework for early help provision and ensure new requirements are adequately resourced;
  • Urgently address the funding crisis for children’s social care;
  • Ensure that the proposed Mental Health reforms and Domestic Violence Bill include a focus on parents and addressing the impact of these issues on their children;
  • Ensure the Children and Social Work Act Regulations:
    • Are clear that local Safeguarding Arrangements should address early help or low level needs as well as child protection;
    • Include provision for enforcement of the duty to cooperate;
    • Make it clear that adult services are ‘Relevant Agencies’ for safeguarding children;
    • Make clear that all types of schools, nurseries and colleges are ‘Relevant Agencies’ and should be front and centre in the development of the new local arrangements.

The charity is also calling on local authorities to collect and make effective use of data on the response to children’s needs post assessment to better direct support to vulnerable children and families. This should include children who below the threshold of statutory support.

“Addressing the financial pressures on local authorities and strengthening the statutory framework for early help would go a long way to meeting the needs of these children. It has to be clear who should do what, and when, to make sure children get the right help, at the right time,” says the report.

“We are urging the government to take action,” said the report. “Ensuring that these children receive the help they need is an achievable and urgent goal,” it concludes.

Revolving Door: Are vulnerable children overlooked? report available here.


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