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What price a child's safety?

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LGC’s essential daily briefing

“The inquiry considers that all too often institutions are prioritising the reputation of political leaders or the reputation of their staff, or avoiding legal liability, claims or insurance implications, over the welfare of children and tackling child sexual abuse.”

That is the one of the verdicts contained in the interim report published today by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, led by Professor Alexis Jay.

The 109-page document makes for grim reading. But as uncomfortable as it may be, bringing these harrowing cases to light is important not only for the victims but wider society too. 

Findings relating to inquiries into Rotherham and Rochdale have highlighted the historic failure of institutions, including the local authorities in question. Hopefully these cases will help ensure similar abuses are not allowed to occur again.

Up to March 2018, 1,040 accounts of child sexual abuse had been shared with the inquiry.

Of those, 61% were from individuals who said they were first abused when they were 4-11 years old and around a quarter when they were 12-15 years old (24%).

Almost a quarter (23%) were abused by teaching or educational staff and 12% were abused by other professionals, such as medical practitioners, social workers or police officers.

Whatever way you look at it, the findings are horrifying.

Yet the very services that are meant to protect some of society’s most vulnerable are being stretched to near breaking point. 

Demand is increasing at a rate cash-strapped councils are struggling to keep up with. And today, LGC reveals children and family social workers experienced an average 10.5% increase in their caseload last year.

This has raised further concerns that cuts to early intervention services are increasing pressure on stretched frontline staff and undermining the quality of support to vulnerable children.

President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services Stuart Gallimore told LGC: “Ultimately an inextricable, continued rise of the numbers of cases social workers are managing will at some point have a tipping point in terms of the quality and the thoroughness of that work and the impact it has in terms of the timeliness with which key things need to happen.”

It is true that the statistics do need to be treated with an element of caution as it is possible for social workers to take on more cases if they have increased back office support.

However, as LGC editor Nick Golding writes: “If caseloads are going up, social workers will spend less time with families getting to understand the root of problems.”

In addition to that, there is an argument that there could be an increased risk of child sexual exploitation cases being missed.

The inquiry has today recommended the Department for Education should introduce arrangements for the registration of staff working in care roles in children’s homes. It also wants the Department of Health & Social Care to develop a national policy for the training and use of chaperones in the treatment of children in healthcare services.

Both ideas are likely to cost money.

The Local Government Association has long-warned councils are facing a £2bn funding gap for children’s services by 2020.

Many local authorities have raided their reserves to ensure essential services do not suffer as much as they might otherwise. However, that is not a sustainable solution in the medium to long-term.

MPs sitting on the Commons’ housing, communities and local government committee this week said: “We believe that the overall quantum of funding available to local government needs to increase to reflect changing demographic trends and ensure sufficient funding for demand-led services, in particular adult and children’s social care, and councils’ overall financial sustainability.”

This week it emerged that government day-to-day spending is back in the black for the first time in 16 years. At the spring statement the chancellor said if public finances continue to improve he will have the “capacity to enable further increases in public spending and investment” at the next Budget. However, chief secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss warned earlier this month there will be no further rise in public spending unless the UK economy grows faster than official projections.

Even if there is to be more money coming out of the Treasury, it is likely to go to the NHS rather than councils.

Yet today’s interim report from the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse should act as a stark reminder that investing in children’s services is just as important.

While money does not solve everything, it can go a long way to easing rapidly growing pressure on frontline staff.

In February former education secretary Nicky Morgan accused the government of a lack of political focus on children’s social care since Theresa May became prime minister and warned it may not be possible for councils to continue to protect services if austerity continues.

While her motives for making such statements might be questioned by some (she was sacked by Ms May), Ms Morgan, who is now chair of the Commons Treasury committee, is right. 

More money has specifically been made available for adult social care in recent years but children’s services require more funding too. At the end of the day, you cannot put a price on a child’s safety.

By David Paine, acting news editor

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