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Former minister: 'underfunding' hitting high-risk children support

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The support provided to children at high risk of harm varies depending on where they live, according to almost two-thirds of the children’s services directors surveyed by an all-party group of MPs.

Research by the all-party parliamentary group for children, published today, heard evidence that funding pressures are influencing decisions about whether to intervene when children are in danger of abuse and neglect.

The inquiry also examined threshold documents which set out how councils respond to levels of need and risk and found some wide variations in approach to certain problems, including self-harm, domestic violence and difficulties with housing.

In addition to the 97 children’s services directors surveyed, social workers told the inquiry that families often only receive support when they are in crisis.

Of the 1,700 social workers surveyed, 70% said the threshold for supporting children classified as ‘in need’ had risen over the last three years, while half reported an increase in the threshold for triggering a child protection plan.

The report also says some children and families are having support withdrawn as their council had allocated resources to high-risk cases.

Chair of the group Tim Loughton (Con), who was in 2010 appointed children’s minister in the coalition government, said the government’s “woeful underfunding” of children’s social care services is to blame for the problems identified in the report.

He 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.

“This is true for families who struggle to cope on low income, living in poor housing which puts their children’s health in jeopardy. It’s true for children who are harming themselves yet are kept waiting for treatment because they aren’t at immediate risk of suicide. These people need help now, regardless of where they live.

“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.”

A report commissioned by the Local Government Association and published last month found factors largely outside the control of councils, with deprivation as the main driver, are key drivers of significant variations in spending on children’s social care services.

Responding to the report, vice chairman of the LGA’s children and young people board Roy Perry (Con), said: “We are pleased that MPs and peers have backed our long-standing call for government to address the funding gap facing children’s services, which will reach £3bn by 2025.

“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.”

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