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ADCS comment: Safeguarding Pressures Phase 8 full report

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) today, publishes the full report of its latest iteration of Safeguarding Pressures research. ADCS has collected qualitative and quantitative data from local authorities to evidence and better understand changes in demand for, and the provision of, children’s social care services since 2010. The eighth phase of the research brings the evidence base up to date and compares data over a fourteen-year period. The report draws on evidence from 125 local authorities, covering 84% of England’s child population. This, together with existing data, provides a unique insight into safeguarding related pressures facing children’s services in England in 2020/22.

Phase 8 covers the first two years of the pandemic period, a time of significant uncertainty and change in the context in which children and families are living and public services were operating. Most local authorities experienced a reduction in demand for their services during the first few months of the pandemic linked to national lockdowns. However, many local authorities are now seeing an overall increase in safeguarding activity in response to the multifaceted challenges children and families face. A ‘post pandemic’ state has not been reached but we need to be in a position to sufficiently respond when latent need emerges.

As at 31 March 2022:

• There were 2.77 million initial contacts received by children’s social care in 2021/22, an increase of 10% in the last two years

• An estimated 282,320 early help assessments were completed in 2021/22, a 16% increase in the past two years

• There were 650,270 referrals made to children’s social care in 2021/22, an increase of 21% since 2007/08, when this research began

• The number of children subjects of child protection plans in 2021/22 has increased by 74% since 2007/08

• 217,800 section 47 enquiries were undertaken in 2021/22, up 184% since 2007/08

• The number of children in care has increased, up 35% since 2007/08, as has the number of care experienced young people being supported by local authorities

• Parental domestic abuse, substance misuse and poor parental mental health remain some of the most common reasons why children come to the attention of early help and/or children’s social care services

• ‘Abuse or neglect’ remains the predominant reason for referrals to children’s social care services and children coming into care.

Local authorities have a legal duty to keep children safe from harm and to promote their welfare. Twelve years of austerity and a 50% real terms reduction in local authority budgets, plus reductions in other public services, has impeded the ability to work with children and families as early as possible to prevent the escalation of need. Disparate pots of time-limited grant funding from government and local authority investment over the past two years has helped to alleviate some demand pressures. However, this is no substitute for a long term equitable and sufficient funding settlement for all local authorities, which all children and families would benefit from, no matter where they live.

Steve Crocker, ADCS President, said: “This report offers further insights into the impact of the pandemic on children, local communities, and public services. We have seen significant learning loss, particularly for more disadvantaged pupils, at all key stages and ages and attendance at education settings has yet to recover to pre-pandemic levels. Despite a significant fall in safeguarding activity in 2020 linked to lockdowns, higher levels of need and risk are now being seen in children’s social care in 2022 and families continue to present later, with complex, multifaceted needs which are more acute. A sharp increase in claims for free school meals and a clear deterioration in children’s mental health and emotional wellbeing adds to this worrying picture with unplanned arrivals of unaccompanied asylum seeking children at the highest level in years adding further complexity.

He went on to say: “It will still be some time until we see the full impact of the pandemic and we are now facing a cost of living crisis. Day in, day out, we are working hard to support children and families and should be readying ourselves for whatever comes next, but our staff are stretched to breaking point. Families are less resilient than they were, and so are public services. This research highlights the many challenges we face in identifying or meeting children’s needs as early or as well as we would like to. Sadly, were it not for the pandemic experience, some of these needs could have been met earlier in the system and not escalated to crisis point. On top of this after 12 years of austerity and hand to mouth funding for local authorities, we do not have enough social workers or placements for children in care and the cost of both are spiralling. Funding does not match the levels of need we are seeing. Too often funding is allocated on a competitive and short term basis or taken out of the system completely, lining the pockets of rapacious hedge funds. On top of all this, we are increasingly worried about the cost of living crisis and how many more children will fall into poverty, reducing their quality of life and their life chances. The system is crying out for change.

Steve Crocker concluded: “Throughout the report, leaders of children’s services shared their worries about the difficulties they face, their fears for the future but also their appetite for system change alongside a new funding settlement for children and families. There is an opportunity to change within our grasp via a series of reforms to social care, education and special educational needs policies and we stand ready to play our part. We simply can’t go on as we are. Our children deserve better, and so do our workforce. Government must draw together at a national level the separate policy initiatives and pots of funding for unconnected policy intentions, initiate a shift away from private sector profiteering and into one substantial coherent whole that invests funding in the right places within the system. That way, we can make this a country that works for all children.”


The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) Ltd is the professional leadership association for Directors of Children’s Services and their senior management teams in England.

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