Press release: Interim Safeguarding Pressures Phase 7

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) today, publishes the interim report of its latest iteration of Safeguarding Pressures research. ADCS has collected both qualitative and quantitative data from local authorities to evidence and better understand changes in demand for, and provision of, children’s social care. This interim report provides key headlines of the pressures faced by local authorities during 2019/20 while also including a focus activity in the first three months of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This is the seventh phase of study, meaning we can now compare data over a twelve-year period. The interim study draws together survey responses from 79% (119) of all local authorities in England, covering 84% of England’s child population. This, together with existing data, it provides an insight into the safeguarding related pressures facing children’s services across the country. As at 31 March 2020 an estimated 2.44 million contacts were made to children’s social care in 2019/20, an increase of 94% since 2008 and an estimated 81,670 children and young people were in care, an increase of 8.2% since 2018.

The interim report of Phase 7 of Safeguarding Pressures also captured some of the impact of the pandemic on children’s services. Between April and June 2020, during the period of partial school closures:

- There were an estimated 12.6% fewer referrals to children’s social care compared to the same quarter the previous year although there was significant variation across the country, with referrals rising above average levels in some areas during the initial lockdown

- There was a 4% reduction in the number of public law cases in the family courts compared to the equivalent quarter in 2019 and a 52% reduction in the number of final Adoption Orders made.

Local authorities have a legal duty to keep all children safe from harm and to promote their welfare. Cuts to local authority budgets and reductions in other public agencies over the past decade have prevented children’s services and their partners from providing the kind of targeted, early support that allows us to work with families more effectively to prevent them from reaching crisis point. In 2019 it was estimated that children’s social care alone was facing a £3.1 billion funding gap by March 2025 (LGA). Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the context in which children’s services operates has changed beyond what we could envisage and the real impact of Covid-19 on safeguarding children is only now starting to become apparent with predicted increases in referrals and complexity of need.

This interim report provides a high-level overview of the rich data obtained for Phase 7 of ADCS Safeguarding Pressures research. It shows how some local authorities are supporting children and families against a backdrop of significant increases in referrals to children’s social care, children coming into care, the rising number of unaccompanied asylum seeking children, and the number of care leavers. This is coupled with financial pressures mounting on local authorities, such as the transition to business rates retention and the associated lost income over the past year, or the increasing costs of private placements for children in care.

Jenny Coles, ADCS President, said: “This interim report highlights many of the issues that the Association has been raising with government for many years. The pressures on local authority children’s services are very real, although our workforce has worked tirelessly to support children and families during incredibly difficult circumstances, this research shows that the pandemic has had a drastic impact on our work with families. The true impact of the pandemic on children’s services is only starting to emerge and will remain with us throughout the next year and beyond.

She went on to say: “In July this year ADCS published a paper called Building a country that works for all children post Covid-19 which details the additional struggles that families have faced during the pandemic, some of which will have been traumatic for them. For many, this will have exacerbated pre-existing challenges such as poverty, hunger, parental ill health and domestic abuse. With each week that passes thousands more children begin claiming free school meals and the economic outlook going forward seems increasingly bleak, meaning even more children and families will be plunged into crisis. The situation is urgent.

Jenny Coles concluded: “The evidence base continues to grow, illustrating the mounting challenges children and families are facing and the difficulties local authorities have in meeting the level of need now present in our communities in the context of a 50% real terms fall in our funding over the last decade. The government must provide the sector with a sustainable, equitable and long-term financial settlement that enables children to thrive, not just survive in the wake of the pandemic. Respondents to this research said the loss of funding for Troubled Families Programme would have been catastrophic, thankfully this has been extended for a year but we desperately need certainty going forward. A whole system approach to investing in the lives of children and families is urgently needed. We are all committed to making this a country that works for all children, we now need the backing of government to make this happen.”

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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