Born into Care – a North East DCS perspective
Today, 8 June 2021, Nuffield Family Justice Observatory published Born into Care: Newborn Babies in Urgent Care Proceedings in England and Wales. Here, John Pearce, Chair of the North East Association of Directors of Childrens Services, responds to the findings of the report on behalf of North East DCSs:
The bite of austerity and the impact of poverty has long been felt in the North East. The recent “Born into Care” report highlights clearly the impact that is felt within our communities and the real and devastating impact that poverty has on the lived reality of many families. At first glance of these statistics you could be forgiven for thinking that services for children in the North East are lagging behind that of our southern counterparts and this could not be further from the truth.
Place based context is vital to our understanding of the levers that impact on our communities. The excellent research of Bywater, Featherstone and others leaves little doubt of the very clear evidence base linking the impact of deprivation to risk for children. The End Child Poverty coalition reports the North East as having the second highest rate of child poverty at 37% and this has seen the steepest rise in the last 5 years. All 12 North East local authorities feature in the top 20 local authorities nationally that have seen the sharpest increase in child poverty between 2014/15 and 2019/20. This is unsurprising news to those of us who live and work in this amazing part of the world.
The Born into Care series, highlights clearly that for too many of our families, life with a myriad of issues such as domestic abuse, poor mental health, the impact of trauma, coupled with significant poverty creates a complex and unequal system which leaves many families ill equipped to provide the safe nurturing environment for their children that they crave and their children need. The substantial reduction in local authority funding since 2010 has a had a massive effect on the North East and our ability to provide the range and depth of preventative services our communities need and deserve. This coupled with a health system often in acute crisis means that too many families find themselves in situations in which risks increase and resilience is compromised. This leads to an unsafe situation for more children that requires a court intervention to ensure they are protected from harm.
The local authorities of the North East have long since recognised the issue raised in the report, and have been committed to further research with Family Justice Observatory (Nuffield), into current practice that is currently been undertaken to inform service development so we can further mitigate the increased risk factors that are evident in the region.
There is a wealth of innovative practice in the North East, some of which will be highlighted in the upcoming Nuffield research, however there remain a number of complex factors which drive families and communities to be unable to provide “safe” care for children. This research highlights important questions for the whole system which require careful and active consideration. Looking only through the lens of any single agency practice will not address systemic inequalities that disproportionately impact on the most deprived communities. There are undoubtedly issues of system, culture and practice we need to develop in the North East and this requires commitment from all services across the system and collaboration with communities.
Local authorities across the North East remain committed to working with families and communities to enable and empower children to be brought up safely and securely within their birth families and communities. Sadly the risks outlined above outweigh the strengths, and systems in place to mitigate are not enough for too many.
Will we be able to achieve what is needed without whole system reform and significant investment in the social Levelling Up agenda? No is the clear answer, so we all need to play our part in providing a system that can give all of our children the opportunity they deserve to live in a safe, loving and nurturing environment.