Directors deny that structural change

Cultural barriers and a lack of funds are preventing parents of children at risk gaining support, reports Josephine Hocking

As the separation of children’s and adults’ social care continues in local authorities, concerns have been raised about the gaps that may emerge between services as a result.
Such concerns reflect the view that it is not ideal for children and parents from the same family to be supported by separate departments.

Surrey Council has decided to recombine its adults’ and children’s departments to create a more family-centred service. Meanwhile, voluntary organisations are lobbying the government to focus policy on the family as a whole rather than children and adults separately (Family groups unite to pre-empt adults versus children cash battle, 16 February).

And a report released last week by the Commission for Social Care Inspection says child protection services too often focus on the need to protect the child, rather than on dealing with their parents’ problems.

The report was a response to concerns over the increasing separation of children’s and adults’ services, the “considerable growth” in the number of parents of children on the child protection register who have problems of their own, and “increasingly high” thresholds for services.

The CSCI chair Denise Platt says it illustrates that good co-ordination of adults’ and children’s services is “imperative”, though the report steers well clear of suggesting turning the clock back to the era of social services departments.

The commission interviewed 28 parents of children on the child protection register, 15 young people with experience of child protection or care proceedings and 105 professionals from adults’ and children’s services. Mental health and substance misuse problems for parents and domestic violence were the main reasons for children going onto the register.

Most parents were receiving some services, but the majority of those given support were critical of what they were receiving.

The report says: “Most parents thought professionals did not understand their needs.”

Both the parents and professionals interviewed say earlier interventions would help – but eligibility thresholds for services were too high to allow this, the report finds.

It says: “High thresholds of service eligibility, developed in service silos, get in the way of effective collaboration between agencies. In particular they get in the way of developing
a strategic approach to early intervention.”

Andrew Webb 125x125Andrew Webb, co-chair of the Association of Directors of Social Services children and families committee, says the criteria are set so high because budget constraints force local authorities to ration services.

But, for Webb, the separation of children’s and adult services is not the issue. He says: “Structures are not the problem; in reality, adult and children’s services have worked separately for years.”

The need for better co-ordination of services for parents of children on the child protection register is hardly a new issue, adds Webb.

The ADSS’s main concern is that preventive services are being cut due to lack of funds, he says.

“We know that early intervention works but we don’t have the money to invest in services,” says Webb.

Comments from professionals in the CSCI report back up Webb’s view on resources, for instance by emphasising the problem of staff recruitment and retention.

Other reasons why social workers fail to engage with whole families to address complex issues and instead focus on short-term interventions are also familiar.

These include difficulties for social care staff accessing help from other agencies, particularly mental health services, and problems sharing information with other bodies.

Structure, it appears, is not the issue, but investment and the removal of cultural barriers to integrating services are – problems that have long proved hard to crack in social care.

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