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Tue, 09 Jul 24 10:00

And the answer is?!

Since my last blog, the National Audit Office (NAO) published its report Pressures on Children’s Social Care. It’s yet another report that illustrates what we already know with regards to the increasing pressures facing children and families and children’s services across the country.

Crucially, the report found no correlation between local authority spend and a positive Ofsted judgement which implies that the DfE’s policy making is not underpinned by evidence. We absolutely need more funding so that all children and families are given the help and support that they need but with local authority budgets cut in half we are continuously being pushed to make savings, yet many of the factors fuelling the need for our help are outside of our control. The NAO’s analysis suggests that local authority characteristics may account for 44% of the variation between different local authorities over time in how we respond to demand. Different levels of deprivation could explain 15% of the variation and 10% may be accounted for by changes which affect all local authorities equally, such as legislative changes. The report also points out that the relevant characteristics of local authorities and their areas account for the greatest cause in variation. These characteristics include custom and practice in children’s social care, local market conditions and historical patterns of demand. Taken together, the breadth of variation reduces significantly. When I look at the succession of reports on my desk all pointing to the chronic under-funding of children’s services, despite the valiant efforts of local politicians to protect them, you begin to wonder whether the need for more resources isn’t just an inconvenient truth at a time of significant economic uncertainty. I certainly hope this is the case otherwise the only alternative is wilful blindness.

The NAO recommends that the DfE promptly improves its understanding of children’s social care and builds on their research to help explain demand and local variations. Clearly, as an Association, we will provide whatever assistance we can but I do wonder how often we need to identify the impacts of austerity, rising child poverty, deprivation and the increasing prevalence of domestic abuse, substance misuse, poor parental mental health as well as the growth and complexity of contextual safeguarding. Added to this is the growth in demand for services to support children with special educational needs and disabilities. Whilst the one off sums of money for social care were welcome in the budget announcement last autumn (for my own authority it has meant we can delay cuts to early help and safeguarding services for 12 months!) these one off sums and time limited funding pots are not a solution to the crisis we face. Only through changes to national policy, so that children and families are prioritised, will we begin to see a reverse in the trend of rising demand for children’s services. In England, we’re the only country in the UK without a national child poverty reduction strategy yet this would be an ideal starting point. Until central government faces up to the need for action, outcomes for children and families will get worse, not better, and that cannot be right.

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