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New research highlights children and young people’s needs...

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) today publishes the latest version of its Safeguarding Pressures research.

Since 2010 ADCS has collected and compared both qualitative and quantitative data from local authorities in five phases spanning 2007/8 to 2015/16 in order to evidence and better understand changes in demand for, and provision of, children’s social care. The current phase of the study draws together returns from 132 of the 152 local authorities in England, providing information covering 10.5 million (90%) children and young people under the age of 18. This, together with existing data, provides an insight into the safeguarding related pressures facing children’s services across the country. For the year ending 31st March 2016:

  • It is estimated that 2.19 million initial contacts were made to children’s social care, this is an increase of 53% since 2007/8
  • Referrals to children’s social care were up 12% since 2007/8
  • The number of children becoming subjects of an initial child protection plan has increased by 78% since 2007/8
  • Neglect continues to be the most prevalent category of abuse in child protection plans and emotional abuse, including domestic abuse, continues to increase
  • Over half a million Child in Need assessments were completed in 2015/16; the most prevalent factor in assessments remains domestic abuse, affecting nearly half of all cases coming to the attention of children’s social care
  • It is estimated that 32,964 children started to be looked after in 2015/16 - an increase of 37% since 2007/8
  • 41% of authorities reported continued and increasing difficulties recruiting experienced frontline staff.

In Phase 5 we asked, for the first time, for numbers of children at risk of child sexual exploitation (CSE) during the year. We allowed local authorities to use their own local definitions, and unsurprisingly, therefore it is clear from the comments that the data supplied represent a wide range of counting and recording methodologies, with some providing information about children who have been subject of a CSE risk assessment; some where CSE was a presenting factor in assessment; or other local definitions. An estimated 13,466 children and young people were identified to be at risk of CSE authorities felt this was due to increased public and professional awareness of the signs and symptoms of CSE. The number provided does not indicate the number of children and young people who have been victims of CSE.

This research shows that the effects of ‘the toxic trio’, of parental mental health, substance misuse and domestic abuse, continue to be a major and growing reason for involvement of children’s social care services. Research undertaken in an Eastern region authority found that the ‘toxic trio’ presented in 90% of cases, in other analyses this ranged from 65% to 80%.

More positively, more authorities described the impact of early help was being more clearly felt in the local area than in Phase 4. A number of councils, however, cited reducing budgets and the future impact this will have on the provision of local early help services as a growing concern.

One London authority said: “As with many other local authorities, we have experienced significant budget reductions over the last 4 years, with further reductions to both grant and general funding planned over the next 2 years; the latter will require transformational activity in terms of how we do business, particularly in respect of the ongoing development of the local early help offer. While short-term grant funding such as the Children’s Social Care Innovation Fund has become available, it is challenging to plan service delivery around short term, unstable temporary funding sources”.

Dave Hill, President of the ADCS, said: “Local authorities have reported significant increases in safeguarding activity throughout each phase of ADCS Safeguarding Pressures and many of the pressures we face continue in Phase 5. Our members and their teams are absolutely committed to providing high-quality and effective services that meet the needs of vulnerable children, young people and their families, however, the impact that six years of financial austerity has had on our services, at a time of rising demand, simply cannot be understated. To date, our response has been to innovate, collaborate and work in different ways to target areas of most need and there is evidence that this is having a positive impact in some places. But effective, targeted services take time to plan and implement and this is becoming much more challenging to do as the problems children and their families face become more urgent and further funding reductions are expected.

He went on to say: “The impact of this, alongside rising levels of poverty, on our communities is now visible, and likely to grow, as we see children and young people’s needs becoming more and more complex and widespread. Worryingly, the growing prevalence and the impact of the ‘toxic trio’ – parental mental health, substance misuse and domestic abuse – continues to be a major concern for our members and their teams. Without addressing the root causes of some of these issues we will never see the sort of reductions we would like to see in terms of fewer children coming into care allowing us to do even better for those who are already in our care.

Dave Hill, concluded: “So much progress has been made over the past decade and irrespective of the funding available we will continue to do all we can to safeguard children but what we need is whole system and whole community change aimed at addressing the issues children and families face earlier, before they reach crisis point. Given that 40% of respondents predict that levels of demand will continue to increase; there’s a growing sense that we are approaching a tipping point that, if reached, will impact generations of children. We owe it to the children, young people and families in our communities to address these issues before it’s too late.”

The full Safeguarding Pressures Phase 5 Research report can be found on the ADCS website alongside the previous four reports – www.adcs.org.uk


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