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Baubles, bells and budgets

For all of its fun and festivity, December can be a challenging month for local authorities.

December is particularly difficult as our winter pressures really start to bite; when vulnerable adults feel particularly lonely and isolated and it can also be a difficult time for children in care.

While most people are thinking of baubles and bells or what date it’s considered appropriate to put up the Christmas tree, many of you reading this will be focusing on budgets and backlogs.

Children’s services are enduring relentless pressure, as funding for our services decreases whilst demand most definitely does not. The task of balancing council budgets is tougher than we have experienced before. In order to protect vital statutory services, early help and preventative services have, in some places, been severely reduced despite us knowing that we can make the strongest difference to children and young people by intervening earlier before problems become worse and reach crisis point.

As a director of children’s services, and in my case of adults services too, you become somewhat accustomed to working in challenging environments. On Monday 5th December, ADCS published Phase 5 of its Safeguarding Pressures research which highlights just how challenging 2015/16 has been. For the year ending 31st March 2016:

  • The number of initial contacts made to children’s social care has increased by 53% since 2007/8
  • There has been a 12% increase in referrals since 2007/8
  • There has been a 78% increase in the number of children becoming subject to an initial child protection plan since 2007/8
  • There has been a 37% increase in the number of children in care since 2007/8.

These are stark statistics.

Given that 40% of responding authorities predicted a continued rise in safeguarding activity and recent analysis by the Local Government Association estimates that by 2020 children’s services face a £1.9bn funding shortfall, it is clear that uncertain and tough times lie ahead.

I sometimes wonder whether we are all on someone’s naughty step!

Add to this the factors outside of our direct influence that increase demand on our services and strapped resources; the rapid rise in vulnerable unaccompanied asylum seeking children, impact of the government’s welfare reforms and rising levels of poverty on children and families, demands from inspection and negative media coverage, to name just a few – is it surprising that we are all feeling under pressure? Irrespective of all of this, the work that we do and our commitment to children and their families remains our number one priority.

There is a positive thought I’d like to leave with you – a ray of goodwill from Nottingham. We have a campaign that we have run in the city with the NHS and voluntary sector called Looking After Each Other . It asks people to do a little more to help others as part of our demand management strategy. In previous years this has focused on older, vulnerable people – but this year for the first time we have redeveloped the campaign to incorporate children’s services, because quite rightly, if we are thinking about ways to help others, it’s only right that this should include children and young people too.

The campaign has been well received and is spreading a feel-good message across Nottingham at a time of year when people naturally think of others. Long may it continue!

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