We should know and accept by now that all the evidence shows a strong correlation between deprivation and higher rates of children’s services referrals, child protection plans and children looked after by local authorities.
Being overwhelmed, ground down, stressed and distressed by the strains, worries and exhaustion created by poverty makes it harder to parent well.
And as poverty for children and families is increasing and intensifying it should be no surprise that 80% of child protection plans are because of concerns about neglect and emotional abuse.
What is also, however, of concern is that government cuts mean that not only are more children and parents immersed in more and more severe poverty but that when they start to struggle less help is available.
A smaller proportion of children are now accepted by councils as children in need with services being more heavily rationed and thresholds higher before any help is provided.
It should also be of no surprise that the Local Government Association has stated that children’s social services are at ‘breaking point’. In some places they are already overloaded and overwhelmed.
There are councils that get too focused on exciting and disruptive organisational change and corporate agendas are likely to be the first to crumble
There are councils which will survive the pressure longer than others. Councils where the political and corporate cultures are bullying or give little time and attention to the realities at the frontline or get too focused and fixated on exciting but disruptive organisational change and corporate agendas are likely to be the first to crumble as frontline workers feel exposed and unsupported.
High turnover and an unstable workforce with an increasing dependency on costly but transient agency social workers and managers provides no platform for safe and secure services.
But variations between councils should not mask the biggest issue. The cuts are causing a crisis and more children as a consequence are being left stranded and vulnerable.
It is a political choice whether to tolerate or ameliorate the crisis which is already with us. Choose your own metaphor, but now is not the time for Rome and fiddles or ostriches and sand.
Neither is the solution to make it all more complex and complicated by coercing or forcing councils to outsource their statutory children’s services to stand alone companies or trusts.
It takes time and attention away from the services by instead focussing on setting up the new arrangements, which usually takes about two years.
It adds short-term and continuing costs in setting-up and managing contracts and elongated reporting arrangements. It also means that councils are less engaged and informed about the services for children in their communities for whom they still carry the statutory responsibility to assist and protect.
Cuts are not minimised by adding costs and complexity. Maintaining and improving performance is not assisted by getting distracted from focusing on today’s frontline practice and capacity. The government needs to address the issue of cuts but also the chaos it is in danger of creating.
Ray Jones, emeritus professor of social work, Kingston University; former director of social services, Wiltshire Council
Now is not the time for Rome and fiddles or ostriches and sand – or children's trusts