Children’s services departments are becoming increasingly reliant on “unstable” funding sources as the numbers with protected budgets fall, a new report has warned.
The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) research found temporary additional funding streams, such as the government’s children’s social care innovation fund, were becoming “increasingly critical” to services as core investment in councils reduced.
Local authorities that responded to the report raised concerns over the instability of grant funding. One said it was “wearing to keep chasing grants that are only going to be around for a year or two”. A second council warned it was hard to plan services around “short-term, unstable temporary funding sources”.
The report said some local authorities no longer had protected social care budgets and were beginning to see reductions. Once council said it had made £80 million worth of cuts since 2010, and needed to make £47 million more by 2020.
The funding crisis comes alongside rising demand for care. The report estimated that 2.19 million initial contacts were made to children’s social care in in 2015/16, a 53% increase since 2007/08. Referrals were up 12% on the same period, and the number of children subjects to child protection plans had increased 78%.
Dave Hill, president of the ADCS, warned the system was approaching a “tipping point” and the effects of six years of austerity on services could not be understated.
“The impact of this, alongside rising levels of poverty, on our communities is now visible, and likely to grow, as we see children and young people’s needs becoming more and more complex and widespread.
“Worryingly, the growing prevalence and the impact of the ‘toxic trio’ – parental mental health, substance misuse and domestic abuse – continues to be a major concern for our members and their teams.
“Without addressing the root causes of some of these issues we will never see the sort of reductions we would like to see in terms of fewer children coming into care allowing us to do even better for those who are already in our care.”
The report warned of increasing churn in the social work workforce with “greater incentives” for frontline staff to change jobs.
“The ASYE workforce is being recruited into existing vacancies, but many authorities report that whilst helpful in the longer term, this does present some early challenges, for example in the allocation of more complex cases,” the report said.
“The quality of agency staff varies, with some authorities reporting concerns about the lack of expertise of some. This may correlate with other more generic comments about ASYEs leaving to move to “more lucrative agency positions,” it added.