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Cabinet members reveal struggle to meet legal duties to children

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Four in 10 (41%) cabinet members responsible for children’s services say a lack of resources is preventing their council from meeting one or more of its statutory duties to vulnerable children, a survey has found.

Research by the National Children’s Bureau reveals that 30% of 101 lead members said their council lacked the resources to fully support children considered at risk of significant harm after being placed on the child protection register.

More than a third of respondents (35%) said their council lacked the resources to care for children classified as “in need”, while 36% reported difficulties in supporting children in care.

Two thirds (66%) of those who responded to the survey said their council does not have sufficient funding to provide universal services such as children’s centres and youth clubs, while 87% reported that demand for children’s social care had grown in the last two years.

Half of respondents (50%) said the increase in demand had been caused by increased levels of poverty and hardship, with 45% saying cuts to services supporting families were a contributing factor.

A quarter of lead members (24%) said rising levels of abuse and neglect were driving demand, while 36% said this was partly due to professionals getting better at identifying signs that a child is at risk.

When lead members were asked what their top spending priorities would be if they received a 10% increase in annual funding, the most common choice was to invest in early support for families (54%), followed by prioritising children in care (50%), and investing in supporting children with mental health problems (23%).

National Children’s Bureau chief executive Anna Feuchtwang said vital early intervention services were being sacrificed as councils are forced to focus on supporting children at the highest risk.

She added: “Central government must take action so that families can access the help they need when they need it. This starts with an immediate funding injection for children’s services, additional resources to tackle mental health problems, and better data sharing.”

Ms Feuchtwang also called for the government to examine the impact of poverty, poor housing and changes to welfare on demand for children’s social care.

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