Asylum-seeking children and family support suffer most cuts

Asylum-seeking children and children in need will suffer the biggest cuts in spending over the next year, according to statistics that reveal for the first time how much councils plan to spend on children's social care in England during 2011-12.

Asylum-seeking children and children in need will suffer the biggest cuts in spending over the next year, according to statistics that reveal for the first time how much councils plan to spend on children’s social care in England during 2011-12.

The data summarise council budgets set at the beginning of each financial year. They show that, compared with 2010-11, money allocated for asylum-seeking children will drop by 29%, while “other family support”, which includes children-in-need payments, family support workers and support for young care leavers, will fall by 23%.

The drop in spending on asylum seekers could be explained by a reduction in the number of young claimants and also the absorption of some specialist social work teams into generic teams, said Nushra Mansuri, professional officer for the British Association of Social Workers.

“However, I also think there is a link to councils trying to balance their books and reduce their spending wherever they can at the expense of those who have the least voice and are marginalised.”

Ilona Pinter, policy adviser at The Children’s Society, said she was concerned that the cuts to services for asylum-seeking children would create even greater inequality.

“Already in so many cases they are not receiving the support they need,” she said. “Changes by the current government on access to higher education and legal services will see costs shifting to local authoritiesthey need to devote more resources – not fewer – to support asylum-seeking children and young people.”

Mansuri said she was also worried by the decrease in support for children-in-need. “We are told that, although social worker posts may appear to be protected from cuts, this is not the case for support workers,” she said. “It doesn’t bode well when the Munro Review and others have all called for more preventive work to stop children coming into care.”

Other cuts include a 21% drop in spending on looked-after children’s education. This was expected by some in the sector who believe councils will try to shunt costs on to schools whose budgets have been protected by government.

Other looked-after children services facing cuts include those provided to children living in lodgings and hostels, those living independently or in mother and baby homes.

Overall, youth justice has also taken a hit of 6% in spending this year, although this could be due to reduced numbers of young offenders. Meanwhile, council spending on secure accommodation welfare [placements for children who need to be in a secure children’s home for welfare reasons] is up by 44%.

However, Matt Dunkley, Association of Directors of Children’s Services’ president, urged circumspection: “These figures require a strong health warning, given the financial returns on which they are based.

“Section 251 returns do not reflect local authorities’ own financial reporting practices and may be completed differently between authorities and indeed within the same authority over time, making comparisons difficult. Substantial service redesign, the creation of joint adult and children directorates and changes to central government grants will all have affected the way local authorities group expenditure in the Section 251 return to government.”

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