Rising child referrals cancel out austerity savings

Local authorities fear they will be unable to protect frontline services if the forthcoming comprehensive spending review demands more cutbacks

One council reported increasing need in more affluent areas

Rising referrals to children’s services have largely cancelled out savings made over the past two years as part of austerity measures, the Family and Parenting Institute (FPI) has found.
In a report, published today, the FPI analysed financial data and interviewed council officers from eight anonymous local authorities across England.
As predicted, the services that were hardest hit by cuts were those targeted on early intervention with families, such as youth services, children’s centres and parenting support.
Council officers said they had tried to protect frontline services, but would be unable to shield them further if the next comprehensive spending review demands more cuts.
The FPI found cuts made in social care mostly came from renegotiating contracts with independent fostering agencies, reducing spend on unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, greater use of the common assessment framework to deliver services and reduced spend on management and business support.
Services for children with special educational needs had also seen cuts through tighter panel procedures, reduction of education psychology and integration of assessments.
Overall, the cuts totalled almost a quarter of the savings made across children’s services. However, over the same two years looked-after children and special educational needs accounted for more than two thirds of councils’ increased spend on children’s services.
One local authority saw a 70% increase in referrals to social work in just 18 months, while child protection cases had increased by almost 50%.
“One council reported some of this need was coming from emerging need in more affluent neighbourhoods. Families were experiencing problems because parents could not afford to separate,” the report highlighted.
One director of children’s services estimated the cost of rising pressures at almost £3m, which had to be funded on top of savings that totalled more than £20m over two years.
“In four of the eight councils involved, new funds were being added to social work budgets to allow for increased demand in fostering, adoption and children’s residential care,” the report stated.
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