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New ADCS president: COVID-19 will ‘plunge more families into poverty’

The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to plunge even more children and families into poverty, the new president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services has warned.

Echoing concerns raised by WillisPalmer weeks ago that many of the measures introduced to combat the spread of the virus have placed vulnerable children in increasingly dangerous situations and the fallout will be even more damaging than the coronavirus itself, new president Jenny Coles anticipates a spike in referrals to children’s services after restrictions are lifted.

“I am worried about the pressures being stored up for us and what we might have to tackle, all of which comes on top of severely stretched and woefully under-funded children’s services. I do recognise this is true across all public services as a result of a decade of austerity, but children and young people should not, must not, pay the heaviest price,” said Jenny Coles in her inaugural address.

“I expect we will see huge spikes in demand across the children’s social care spectrum. Referrals to children’s social care are low at the moment, for obvious reasons, as the biggest sources of referrals, police, health and schools, are occupied elsewhere. I fear we will uncover new unmet need in the child in need space but more worryingly, in the child protection space. And, there is a very high probability that we are building up a backlog of new care applications which may result in more children needing to come into care,” she added.

Ms Coles also highlighted:

- The calls to Refuge’s hotline for reporting domestic abuse are up many fold.

- There will be an increase in the number of children and adolescents ensnared in sexual and other forms of criminal exploitation, recruited in gangs, because they have missed months of the protective factor of school.

- Increased incidences of children living with one, two or all three of the factors – parental substance misuse, domestic abuse and parental mental ill-health and emotional distress.

- Widening of health inequalities.

- Increased mental ill health.

“The impact of social distancing restrictions, and the closure of schools and colleges will have a lasting impact of children and young people. Young people are inventive and creative and have of course found plenty of ways of staying in touch with their friends and families. But, for some the enforced social isolation will be compounding and exacerbating their worries and anxieties. I am deeply concerned that we will see a sharp rise in the number of young people self-harming, or worse, that suicide rates will increase across the population,” added Ms Coles.

She added that she “fully intended” to keep child poverty high on everyone’s agenda and pledged to work closely with DfE, other government departments and with providers to achieve a national sufficiency strategy of placements for children in care.

Furthermore, she highlighted the importance of the Care Review to have a sharply focussed, clear aim of improving outcomes for children in care and care leavers, saying the aim should not be clouded by seeking to reduce the number of children in care per se, but to ensure the right children are in care, at the right time, in the right placement with the right support.

“The announcement of extra funding for children (and adult) social care is welcome. But I just want to say loud and clear, this is not yet job done for children’s services…We must work towards a sustainable long term funding settlement for children’s services. Before the pandemic, children’s services were woefully under-funded and stretched to the limit. The current crisis is significantly exacerbating that inadequate baseline of funding. The resources needed during the nation’s recovery from the pandemic will be eye-wateringly large. I’m sure that the government will invest in its citizens’ futures. I want to see unprecedented levels of investment in our children’s futures, please,” Ms Coles concluded.

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