Falling looked-after numbers not due to early intervention

Reduced social work caseloads could have affected the fall in London's looked-after numbers, according to an investigation by London Councils

A high spend per child was associated with low looked-after numbers

An investigation into London’s falling numbers of children in care has dismissed any link to increased early intervention services.

Instead, it concluded the key factors were a higher spend per child in care and lower social work caseloads

The report, by London Councils, examined patterns of children entering and leaving care since 2008 to understand why London was bucking the national trend of rising care numbers.

High spend and low caseloads

It found inner London councils have seen the greatest drop. These authorities had a much higher average spend per child, ranging between £718 to £1,205, while in outer London the spend ranged from £298 to £757.

Snapshot data also found social work caseloads in inner London were closer to 17 children per social worker, compared to 21 children per social worker in outer London.

But few councils could demonstrate a correlation between increased availability of early help services and a reduction in the number of looked-after children. The authors said this could be because most early help services were still in their infancy.

However, social workers were intervening earlier in neglect cases, which had seen an increase in younger children entering the care system. Once in care, those councils with dropping care numbers actively pursued permanency plans for young children, such as kinship care, long term fostering or adoption.

Reduction in social work capacity risks rise in looked-after numbers

The report also pointed out that since 2008 the capital has, for the most part, enjoyed a run of good Ofsted inspections, which led to increased social work stability and confidence.

The report stated: “There is a clear connection between a well-resourced, stable and confident children’s social care department and effective management of the number of looked-after children within an authority.

“Within the context of the austerity measures currently facing local authorities it is worth highlighting that a reduction in social work capacity risks a rise in the number of looked-after children, which may in fact cost more in the long run.”

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