ADCS warns of ‘perfect storm’ in child protection

Early intervention funding must be ring-fenced to prevent a "perfect storm" of rising child protection referrals and a reduction in resources according to directors of children's services (president, Marion Davis pictured).

Early intervention funding must be ring-fenced to prevent a “perfect storm” of rising child protection referrals and a reduction in resources according to directors of children’s services.

A second report, commissioned by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) to analyse the rise in referrals to children’s services found that social workers needed an additional 63,000 hours per year just to attend child protection meetings for the additional 3,850 children entering the looked after system from December 2009.

Children’s services departments are predicting an average 8% overspend on their budgets after estimating the cost of the increased number of children at £243m. The recession, population growth and increased awareness amongst partner agencies means these numbers will continue to rise, the report states.

President of ADCS Marion Davis called on the government to either provide a ring-fenced grant for early intervention specifically or for service resdesign. “Without investment in early intervention, we risk creating a perfect storm – as demand rises and resources reduce, the current early intervention schemes will come under increased pressure as resources are siphoned off to cope with demands on statutory services.

“We know the deficit must be reduced and that all public services must play their part in doing so. But we would be irresponsible to accept cuts now and have to return to central government with a begging bowl later, when we have a chance to reduce the costs for the longer term.  The system is unsustainable and needs to change. There are a number of reviews underway to support service redesign but recommendations do not become reality without investment. We would hope that the comprehensive spending review would recognise the importance of investment to avoid a continuing vicious circle.”

Directors are also calling on Professor Eileen Munro’s review of child protection services to get rid of the timed deadlines on all assessments to be replaced with fewer outcome-based, qualitiative indicators. The role of the independent reviewing officer should be reassessed and the processes for accrediting foster carers and adoptive parents should also be simplified.

Schools should have to show how they will spend the new pupil premium on early identification of needs and intervention for vulnerable children

“Central and local government must prioritise the resources required to support and train social workers in order to build a workforce that is confident to assess and act on needs earlier and without the prescriptive guidance that currently stifles their initiative and hinders prompt action.” Davis added.

The report authors did in-depth interviews with councils and local safeguarding children boards and found that although the Baby P effect was one cause of increased referrals councils also felt the rise in 16 to 17-year-olds subject to child protection plans and increased levels of awareness from partner agencies were also significant factors. It also pointed out that population growth alone will seen an additional 3,000 looked after children by 2019.

Ironically, the common assessment framework, supposed to be used as an early intervention measure, was also pinpointed as a factor for increased referrals. One council said the training that was rolled out to other professionals such as teachers and children’s centre staff meant they were now more aware of the needs of children which was leading to increased referrals.

Children’s minister Tim Loughton said although he recognised the concerns about funding he believed it was “more important than ever that we make the best use of our most valuable resource- social workers- and trust them to get on with their vital job at the sharp end”.

He said Graham Allen, the MP who is chairing the early intervevention review, would examine “how lessons from successful, cost-effective early intervention projects can be shared across the country” and the Munro review would examine the role of other agencies in early intervention.

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