Councils could go further in cutting children’s services budgets by improving efficiency, the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services has said.
Sarah Pickup, honorary secretary at ADASS , said this explained figures released last week showing adult care budgets faced more significant cuts than children’s services.
A survey by the Chartered Institute for Public Finance and Accountancy, which represents council finance heads, has found 59% of councils in England and Wales plan to cut adult social care budgets by an average of 7%.
While a greater proportion – 87% – are planning cuts to children’s services in 2010-11, these average 1%.
Pickup, who has a professional background in public finance, said she did not believe councils were deliberately penalising adult services budgets to protect children’s care funding as a result of the increased pressures on child protection since the Baby P case.
However, she said that the “huge rise in referrals” to children’s social care in the past 18 months, had led to a “huge nervousness at reducing budgets” lest children be put at risk. This meant opportunities to make efficiencies were not being taken, she said.
Pickup, director of adult social care at Hertfordshire Council, said there was potential for children’s services to make savings by removing duplication and examining care pathways to ensure only appropriate referrals reached children’s social care.
She said councils faced similar pressures in adult social care – driven by an ageing population – but had been more successful in delivering efficiencies. For instance, adult services have invested in reablement services to help people maintain independence and renegotiated the costs of historic care placements.
Pickup predicted that to avoid “significant slash and burn type cuts” as public spending tightens further, councils would need to forge closer partnerships with the NHS in both adults’ and children’s services.
In adults’ services, this would involve investing in falls prevention schemes and intermediate care and engaging in “case finding” work to identify people at risk of needing care.