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'Fundamental rethink' of child protection a priority

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The leader of England’s directors of children’s services has called for a “fundamental rethink” of the way child protection is delivered, warning that otherwise councils will have to “decimate” other services in order to safeguard efforts to shield vulnerable young people from abuse.

Alan Wood, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, made the comments days after Solace president Mark Rogers claimed in LGC that all local authorities would be forced to cut child safeguarding expenditure in the next three years due to mounting budget pressures.

The spotlight has been on child protection in recent weeks following the publication of the independent inquiry into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham. Martin Kimber, who joined the South Yorkshire council in 2009, announced yesterday that he would step down as chief executive of Rotherham MBC at the end of December.

Speaking to LGC, Mr Woods, who is also corporate director for children’s services at Hackney LBC, said the debate over cuts to children’s services was not simple, as some councils had increased resources to child protection in recent years and reorganised their services to make them more effective.

However he agreed with Mr Rogers’ general point about the “total pressure on children’s services”.

“I think local government has been particularly vigilant in protecting frontline social workers doing child protection and I am not sure they will be able to continue doing that without some fundamental rethinking of the way these services are delivered and the threshold above which children are coming into the system,” said Mr Woods.

“If we carry on in [the current] way, local authorities will have to decimate services in other areas, including ones which impact on children, in order to protect child protection.”

An LGA spokesperson said councils had looked to protect children’s services from the “swingeing cuts” seen elsewhere across local government and that spending on child protection had actually increased.

However, she added: “The resilience of children’s services departments cannot be stretched much further, particularly in light of the huge increase in demand for vital child protection services. With demand for children’s services increasing year on year, we need to have a sensible and realistic debate about how they are funded in future.”

LGA analysis of Department for Education data revealed a 10% rise in referrals and a 32% increase in children requiring support through a child protection plan over the past five years, while local authorities have faced cuts of 40% over the life of this Parliament.

The latest Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy analysis of local government spending found councils in England budgeted to spend £1.865bn during 2013-14 on safeguarding children and young people’s services, a 0.7% drop on the previous year, with 68 local authorities increasing spending in this area and 84 decreasing expenditure.

A Cipfa spokesman said its survey showed councils had largely been able to protect key services to date.

“Our members are increasingly concerned, however, about the cumulative impact of further cuts and the ability to find savings, moving forward it will become increasingly difficult to protect frontline services,” he said.

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