Chris Hallett: ‘This time it is different’
If all things are cyclical, this recession should bear some of the same traits as the dip in the 1990s.
However, this one has components that are having a much deeper effect on social care delivery. Just coping with the effects of the financial crisis is daunting enough, but social work is also having to deal with the huge increase of work as a result of the Baby Peter case in Haringey.
Recession causes a major impact on family finances, leading to dysfunction that can manifest itself in marital problems, mental health issues such as depression, and debt. This has a knock-on effect for children and, in the more extreme cases, leads to an increase in referrals and work for social workers in ensuring that children remain safe.
Early intervention is the key to preventing situations deteriorating and, in the current recession, we have the advantage of the common assessment framework (CAF), which allows earlier intervention.
The value of this is that the CAF is already embodied as an agreed system with all agencies and the process is ready to be used; in the 1990s downturn there was no such process in place. In Warwickshire we have noticed that the CAF process has enabled earlier intervention and resolution of problems before they become major.
The real difference from the previous recession is that local authorities are being hit at a time when budgets are already stretched and under pressure. Also to be factored in is higher demand for services due to more children becoming subject to child protection plans and more children entering the care system. The upshot is stretched workloads and stressed social workers. Matching need to resource availability is strained because they are often left with few options.
On a positive note, in Warwickshire we have experienced an increase in enquiries from people interested in becoming foster carers.
It is difficult to attribute this directly to the recession, but the potential for increasing the number of foster carers and thus choice in placement matching is the one glimmer of hope in a difficult scenario for social work.
Chris Hallett, head of service, children in need, Warwickshire Council