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It is getting harder for vulnerable children to receive the support they need, with the level at which they are deemed to qualify for services rising in recent years as a result of ongoing financial pressures, research has suggested.
Tim Loughton: "There is now a very real fear that intervention for an increasing number of children is being determined not by vulnerability and threat of harm but by finances and availability of support". Image: Janaki Mahadevan
A survey of 1,600 social workers conducted by the National Children's Bureau (NCB) found that 70 per cent said thresholds for qualifying as a "child in need" have risen over the last three years.
Two thirds (66 per cent) said that over the same period thresholds for early intervention has risen, 50 per cent said there had been a rise in threholds for child protection plans, and 54 per cent said there has been a rise in thresholds for care order applications.
Among those responding, 60 per cent said financial considerations were a key factor in decisions on whether to offer early help to vulnerable children.
A similar proportion (61 per cent) said financial considerations come in to play when decisions on whether a child qualifies as a "child in need" are made. Meanwhile, 45 per cent said this was also the case for care orders and 33 per cent for child protection plans.
The survey was been carried out on behalf of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Children (APPG) and published to coincide with the launch of its inquiry into children's social care thresholds.
"There is now a very real fear that intervention for an increasing number of children is being determined not by vulnerability and threat of harm but by finances and availability of support," former children's minister Tim Loughton, who chairs the APPG, said.
"As we know from bitter experience that is a false economy, both financially and socially, which can have a lasting impact on a child's life chances.
"We risk entering a perfect storm where rising numbers of children in need, increasingly stretched social workers and a growing number of children's services departments coming up wanting in inspections and having to focus on restructure, will inevitably mean more vulnerable children are unable to get the attention they need at the early stage when it can have the greatest impact."
NCB chief executive Anna Feuchtwang added: "This is further evidence that children's social care is becoming an emergency service, as councils struggle to meet their statutory duties to vulnerable children with dwindling resources and rising need.
"Central government must act now, so that struggling families and children get the help when they need it, not just when they're in immediate danger of harm. We also urge the government to think bigger and consider how changes to health, welfare and housing policy can create the right conditions for children to thrive."
Ruth Allen, chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers, called on the government to ensure children's services are properly funded.
"It is clear from the NCB's survey, and previous APPGC work, that resource limitations are affecting decisions about access to services," she said. "Austerity reductions in funding are a cause of this coupled with greater pressures on housing, incomes and welfare support."
By Joe Lepper
13 September 2017