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Tue, 09 Jul 24 10:00

We can't walk away at night

I am sat writing this blog recovering from a bout of covid, a sharp reminder that it hasn’t gone and the impact it can have. It’s been miserable and has allowed me to dwell, perhaps too much, on the number of difficulties we all face as we head into winter:

Demand – due to a combination of factors (we all know them) demand has risen and continues to rise. For example, referrals to the front door are up 20% from a year ago. Other areas of demand continue to rise – early help, SEND, school support, exclusions, CAMHS – it is on all fronts.

Recruitment – Recruitment issues have intensified across the entire workforce. Rising demand means we require more staff and the market is just not there to meet demand. This isn’t just specialist roles such as social workers and educational psychologists. The care market is suffering as much as our Adult Services colleagues are finding. That means not only we cannot recruit enough care staff but neither can many of the independent providers across both social care and SEND.

Finance – this all makes an assumption that Council budgets can increase to cope with the demand, complexity and the high cost of placements. Again, I don’t have enough space here to evidence a decade of cuts, inflation and lack of new funding, but we know that the overall financial positions of councils is deteriorating.

Complexity – these pressures are resulting in us being unable to find appropriate places for children with multiple complexities to live. There are not enough secure placements, tier 4 mental health beds and complex SEND/Social Care placements. And we cannot walk away. This means we are managing risk and complexity locally with all these factors playing out as we try to do our best for our children.

3 national reviews – Although we welcome the major pieces of reform ( The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, Schools White and SEND & AP Green Paper), they just aren’t coming quick enough. I know we need to get them right and need to take the time to ensure they are reaching the right solutions, but, for example, if we look at SEND, costs are still spiralling away and the number of children with EHCPs continues to grow. This needs urgent attention, it isn’t going away, the pressures are just growing rapidly.

New Burdens – By this I mean new statutory requirements that are not funded. They continue to appear. Take the new attendance guidance and duties. We all agree that attendance at school is a priority, but if new tasks and duties are added, they need paying for. We have no reserves of recurrent money sat around waiting to be allocated. Take my own local authority, North Yorkshire, as an example where these new duties, at a minimum, will cost us about £1m.

And at the end of it all it falls to us as local authorities to make sure, sometimes in the most dire of circumstances, that children are cared for every night. We are facing a crisis and we need to treat it as such. We need to see some urgent conversations with the Department for Education, Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England and regulators about how we are to manage this during what is looking like a very difficult period. The dedication, resilience and creativity of my team and our collective workforce to manage all of this is just mind blowing, I am proud of them all, but it is no substitute for dealing with these difficult issues structurally and nationally.

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