MPs have launched an inquiry into children’s social care thresholds after social workers warned that the levels of need required before children can receive support have risen.
A survey by the National Children’s Bureau, in association with the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), found that 70% of 1,646 social workers said the threshold for qualifying as a child in need had risen over the past three years as financial considerations played a larger role in practice.
Six out of 10 social workers also felt that finances available to children’s services influenced decision making “very much” or “to a great extent”.
The impact of budgets was most keenly felt in child in need services, where 61% of social workers said financial considerations were a factor in the decision to support a child.
Most social workers said thresholds had risen across all levels of intervention including early help, child in need services, child protection plans, and taking children into care.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children has launched an inquiry into the issue. It follows another inquiry earlier this year, which warned services were finding it difficult to meet rising levels of demand.
The new inquiry will investigate reasons for variations in threshold across the country, and ask what universal legal entitlement to services means for children when thresholds vary from area to area.
Tim Loughton, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children and a former children’s minister, said the NCB and BASW report was “an important piece of work providing extensive evidence from many social workers who deal with these issues day in day out across the country and must be addressed urgently by ministers”.
“There is now a very real fear that intervention for an increasing number of children is being determined not by vulnerability and threat of harm but by finances and availability of support.”
He said there was a risk of a “perfect storm” where higher numbers of children in need, stretched social workers and a growing number of ‘inadequate’-rated children’s services needing to restructure would leave children “unable to get the attention they need at the early stage when it can have the greatest impact”.
Ruth Allen, chief executive of BASW, said social workers’ vital knowledge was being “overlooked”.
“It is clear from the NCB’s survey, and previous APPGC work, that resource limitations are affecting decisions about access to services,” Allen said.
She said government ministers must “act now” to address “underfunding and inequity”.
“We risk not only the wellbeing of vulnerable children and families now, but the future prosperity and wellbeing of the next generations. We will all lose in the long run,” Allen said.
Anna Feuchtwang, chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau, warned the survey showed that children’s social care was becoming an “emergency service”.
“Central government must act now, so that struggling families and children get the help when they need it, not just when they’re in immediate danger of harm,” Feuchtwang said.