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Children's services have seen the most consistent spending

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Without a focus on early intervention, needs and relative costs will become even more acute, says the chair of the resources and sustainability policy committee, ADCS

News of regional variation and overall increases in reported spending on children’s social care tells a very small part of a complicated tale.

It will probably come as little surprise to those who work in children’s services, who have watched demand increase and our ability to respond being reduced through cuts in the overall local authority budget.

The reasons behind regional variations are complex and multiple, not least that every local authority has responsibility to allocate their spending in ways which best meet the needs of their local population.

But more fundamentally, there are well-rehearsed arguments about the reliability of data on spending.

For instance, what comes within children’s social care for one local authority may be educational spending, or community spending in another – all legitimately, because services often have more than one aim and can ‘sit’ within integrated teams, for example.

Transfers of responsibility and monies into the ‘corporate pot’ will account for some of the variations, but despite apparent rises in individual budget lines, the impact of wider local government cuts on children’s services should not be underestimated.

 

 2014-15 (£m)Change (%)2014-15 (£/head)
South-east excluding London1,100↑22.4125
Greater London1,484↑12.6176
East of England784↑16.8132
East Midlands606↑20.2132
North-east408↑14.7156
North-west1,047↑13.4147
South-west631↑12.3117
West Midlands853↑17.6150
Yorkshire & the Humber811↑20.0152
England7,726↑16.4143

 

Despite cuts of more than 30% since 2010, social care for the most vulnerable children has so far been relatively well ‘protected’.

More than 500,000 children in England were referred to social care last year alone, with nearly 53,000 becoming subject to a child protection plan and in excess of 375,000 designated as a child in need.

As we try to mitigate the risks, safeguarding becomes, more than ever before, everybody’s business; supporting families must be a true multi-agency endeavour.

Council services do not look the same as they did in the days of plenty. As leaders we need to encourage and enable our partners to have real accountability, influence and responsibility for their part in strategies to ensure that the whole system offers enough help to families early enough and in a way that empowers them and their communities, so that we eventually see a reduction in demand.

In truth, with increasing pressures, the challenges facing children’s social care will not diminish in the near future.

Without a focus on early intervention, needs and relative costs will become even more acute. Rising demand for statutory social care will drive up the price of provision and graduates will be loath to join the social work profession, as the balance of work shifts from supporting families to crisis management. 

We need an unwavering focus on evidenced-based early intervention complemented by a realistic national debate about how services will cope with the increased level of need, and how every agency can play an increased role to ensure that problems are tackled effectively.

Ian Thomas, chair, resources and sustainability policy committee, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services

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