Vulnerable children are falling victim to a social care ‘postcode lottery’

The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children reveals that the funding gap is affecting quality of care

Vulnerable children are facing a ‘postcode lottery’ due to a wildly varying system of social care, according to an All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children (APPG) inquiry.

More than four in five directors of children’s services surveyed described problems of children receiving different levels of support depending on where they live – even when the child was at serious risk in two-thirds of cases. The inquiry identified differences between each local authority’s ‘threshold documents’ – which sets out how they respond to children’s needs – as a reason for the variance.

This report is yet further evidence that children’s services are being pushed to the brink, and of the critical need for councils to be given the resources to provide the essential support that our children and young people rely on and deserve

Some children also received no support at all, with a requirement that they slip into crisis before social services step in – with 70 per cent of the 1,700 social workers surveyed insisting that the threshold for helping ‘children in need’ had risen in the last three years. And funding constraints also undoubtedly play a role. The APPG heard first-hand accounts about pressures on resources affected when social services intervened and provided safeguarding action.

In other cases, families already receiving support were deemed to no reach the threshold for help because their local authority was shifting its priorities to more acute cases. Care leavers also called for better support in accessing and understanding information contained in official files.

As a result, the APPG has called on the government close the children’s services funding gap, currently set to reach £3bn by 2025 according to the Local Government Association (LGA), and put in place a sustainable long-term funding settlement for early help and preventative services.

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It is also asking for a consultation on how to introduce a legal duty to provide early help and an expanded review of children in need to gather evidence on thresholds for accessing support. Tim Loughton MP, chair of the APPG for Children and former Children’s Minister, said: “Children and families around the country with the same urgent needs are getting significantly different levels of help, and in some case, no support at all.

“In some places, the pressure on children’s services is so acute it is leaving social workers feeling that the only tool available to them to keep a child safe is to remove them from their family. As a result, families may look at these skilled and caring professionals with mistrust. But this is wrong. It is the woeful underfunding by Government of a proper breadth of social care interventions that is to blame.”

Anna Feuchtwang, director of the National Children’s Bureau, added: “It is a farce that social workers and service leaders have to put cases to one side because they haven’t got the resources to intervene – knowing full well that many of those same cases will be back with a vengeance later, at much greater personal cost to our children and families and at much greater expense to our services. This is storing up trouble and it cannot go on.”

The Big Issue recently investigated the challenges facing local authorities to maintain social care standards and asked if social enterprises could offer a helping hand.

Responding to the APPG report, Cllr Roy Perry, vice chairman of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, identifies the need for more funding to plug the gap.

“This report is yet further evidence that children’s services are being pushed to the brink, and of the critical need for councils to be given the resources to provide the essential support that our children and young people rely on and deserve,” he said.

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