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Warning of irreversible damage if children's funding not addressed

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Irreversible damage will be done to vulnerable children’s lives unless there is a sustainable funding settlement for social care services in next year’s comprehensive spending review, the president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services has warned.

In an interview with LGC following his speech at the National Conference of Adult and Children’s Services on Wednesday, Stuart Gallimore also said the £410m announced in the Budget could cause conflict in some councils as stretched departments compete for the largest share of the money. The Budget red book said the money for 2019-20 can be used for adults and children’s social care.

Mr Gallimore, who is also director of children’s services at East Sussex CC which is planning to cut services to a core offer due to the scale of the financial challenges it faces, said high-performing and low spending children’s social care departments such as his are now unable to safely reduce spending any further after eight years of austerity.

He said a lack of government action to place children’s social care on a sustainable footing would “drive poor decision-making”, with early interventions already being sacrificed to balance the books.

Mr Gallimore said the sector had reached a tipping point which could lead to serious damage being caused to some children’s lives.

He said: “If the government does not take seriously what we are saying as part of the next spending round, I think that tipping point will go over and we will be in a position where some of [the damage] becomes irreversible and you will see some children’s outcomes being profoundly affected.

“We are in a world at the moment that some children’s outcomes would be better if we hadn’t made some of those savings in terms of preventative and targeted services. When you look at [the evidence] in terms of the impacts on children living in poverty, as system leaders we have got to be profoundly concerned.”

The chancellor last month pledged £84m over five years for 20 unspecified councils to help children stay at home with their families.

Mr Gallimore said he understood the money would be distributed to councils with the highest levels of looked after children, but said the government is yet to clarify whether this would be relative to population.

He said: “We are very nervous about anything that is just a wholesale attempt to reduce the number [of looked after children] because that actually might be the right number, it might not be a high enough number, or it might be too high. The issue for us is always about the right children in the right placement for the right amount of time.”

Mr Gallimore earlier warned in his speech to conference that the £410m for adult and children’s social care in 2019-20 announced in the Budget could lead to “152 bun fights”.

He told LGC there are ongoing discussions between the Department of Health & Social Care, Department for Education and the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government on how the money will be distributed and if any formula will be used to determine how much will go to which services.

But Mr Gallimore said it is counterproductive to conflate the two sets of pressures and warned a one-off sum of money would have to be handled with caution as councils making commitments beyond one year could drive up future deficits.

He added: “I don’t think it is helpful to set it up as a set of competing priorities where, yet again, it is the job of local government of sorting out that competition not central government addressing a reality that there needs to be more money in both adults and children’s services.

“If it is the scenario I describe we will see cabinets sitting down with chief officers advising their lead members and lead members invariably making a case for why they should have the largest slice of the cake.”

In Mr Gallimore’s speech he told delegates the government unfairly holds children’s services to a tougher evidence test for further funding than other parts of the public sector and called on the sector to be the “noisy neighbours” of the public sector and “the conscience of the Treasury”.

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