The vast majority of directors of children’s services are struggling to meet legal responsibilities to children categorised as in need of support, with pressure on resources leading to a focus on young people who have already suffered abuse or neglect, a report has found.
An inquiry by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Children found funding pressures meant there had been reductions in investment in early intervention, prevention and support for families.
The report, published today, said there is evidence this has often led to more children being taken into care, resulting in poorer outcomes for children and their families.
The Association of Directors of Children’s Services warned councils’ abilities to prevent problems is in danger.
A survey conducted by the inquiry found 89% of directors of children’s services reported difficulties in fulfilling their duties under section 17 of the Children Act 1989, which requires councils to support all children in need.
These children are defined as those that need support to achieve or maintain a reasonable standard of development, or require services to prevent significant or further harm.
But the inquiry identified significant variation across the country in how these duties were being applied by local authorities, with “wildly different” approaches to early intervention and the identification of children in need.
It also found these variations were not driven by differences in demography or resources, but were the result of local policy decisions which led to “stark contrasts” in outcomes for children.
The report concludes that innovation in service delivery was vital to driving improvements and meet children’s needs.
It added: “Local authorities already can and do innovate, and the inquiry was not convinced that legislative change in this area is necessary or desirable.”
The report called for the Department of Education and Department for Communities and Local Government to review the resourcing of children’s services and consult on the current framework for children categorised as in need.
It also calls for the government to commission an independent inquiry into the variations in access to support across the country and strengthen duties on schools, health services, police and other agencies in relation to safeguarding arrangements.
Commenting on the report, Dave Hill, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, hoped the recommendations are both “heard and acted upon by government”.
He said: “Our members and their teams are absolutely committed to providing high-quality and effective services that meet the needs of vulnerable children and their families, however, the impact of several years of financial austerity is now all too visible in local communities.
“Poor parental mental health, substance misuse and domestic abuse are sadly becoming more common and record numbers of children coming into care.
“With further reductions in local government funding expected and fundamental changes to our financing on the horizon, our ability to step in and prevent problems escalating to crisis point is in serious jeopardy. Put simply, we cannot go on as we are.”