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New research highlights increasing safeguarding pressures

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) today, publishes the latest iteration of its Safeguarding Pressures research. ADCS has collected qualitative and quantitative data from local authorities in six phases spanning 2007/8 to 2017/18 to evidence and better understand changes in demand for, and provision of, children’s social care. The sixth phase of the study draws together survey responses from 92% (140) of all local authorities in England, the highest ever response rate, covering 11.3 million (95%) children and young people under the age of 18. This, together with existing data, provides an insight into the safeguarding related pressures facing children’s services across the country.

In Phase 6, data over a ten-year period can be compared, and, for the first time, predictive modelling is used to estimate future demand, making the latest iteration the most comprehensive and robust yet. As at 31 March 2018, (figures are rounded):

  • An estimated 2.4 million initial contacts were made to children’s social care in 2017/18, a 78% increase over the past ten years
  • Referrals to children’s social care went up by 22% in the last decade
  • The number of children subjects of child protection plans increased by 87% in ten years
  • Abuse and neglect continue to be the primary reason for referrals to children’s social care and for children becoming looked after
  • Twice as many children became subjects of a child protection plan due to neglect in 2017/18 compared to ten years ago and emotional abuse continues to increase
  • An estimated 644,430 Child in Need assessments were completed in 2017/18 and over 170,000 assessments included domestic abuse as a factor
  • It is estimated that 75,480 children were in care in 2017/18 - an increase of 24% in ten years
  • Significantly more 16 -17-year olds were subject of a child protection plan from 0.5% of all children subjects of child protection plans in 2007/8 to 4% in 2017/18
  • 37 local authorities spent £29.4 million in 2017/18 to support 1,867 families with no recourse to public funds from becoming destitute as a result of the government’s immigration policy
  • Local authorities indicated a great deal of positive activity to recruit, retain and support CPD for a skilled workforce.

Local authorities have a legal duty to keep children safe from harm and to promote their welfare. Myriad changes have occurred over the past decade which are impacting on this goal, from a 50% reduction in local authority budgets since 2010 (NAO, 2018), coupled with reductions in other public agencies, especially in the police and health and education services, and countless policy and legislative changes, most notably a sustained period of austerity and welfare reforms. ADCS estimates over 100 new duties have been placed on children’s services since 2011. Whilst many are aimed at improving children’s life chances and outcomes they are not always funded in full.

The research shows that investment through the Troubled Families programme has enabled local authorities to work creatively, with half of respondents stating that this vital funding underpins their early help offer. This investment has facilitated better joint working and co-location with other professionals as well as the ability to fund much needed family support workers. This funding is set to end in 2020 and the majority of respondents said this will have a negative impact with, three quarters stating that nearly all early help services would be cut in their local area. One London authority said the loss of funding “…will create an unsustainable vicious cycle where needs are not met early or met well, putting further pressure onto high end, costly services.”

Stuart Gallimore, ADCS President, said: “This report adds to a growing body of evidence from the likes of the National Audit Office, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the Early Intervention Foundation, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner and even select committees, illustrating the increasing challenges children and families are facing and the growing difficulties local authorities have in meeting the increasingly complex level of need now present in our communities. We will continue to work tirelessly to support children and families to thrive but government’s current approach to funding public services is simply not working, least of all for children. With Brexit taking up so much focus and energy there is a real risk that the serious issues highlighted here in Safeguarding Pressures will remain unaddressed. This cannot happen.

He went on to say: “A decade of austerity has, undoubtably, impacted on children and families, fuelling demand for our help. When adult need is left unmet, due to the lack of support services available to them, it is difficult for us to make a sustained difference in the lives of children, our focus must be on tackling the root causes of these issues not simply the symptoms. Two thirds of all children living in poverty live in working households; rising costs of living; poorly paid work; and insecure; and poor-quality housing as well as changes and delays to benefit payments, only add to the stresses and strains that families face. Funding reductions in other areas of council business coupled with those seen in other public agencies, including health, schools and the police, are now having a clear impact on children’s lives and outcomes.

Stuart Gallimore concluded: “The cumulative impact of cuts, over many years, to the vital services children and families rely on is now being ever more sharply felt, despite the best efforts of thousands of dedicated staff. There is not enough money in the system to meet the level of need we are now seeing, and further cuts are planned. This is compromising our ability to improve children’s life chances. Some local authorities have benefitted from additional funding by bidding for small, time limited pots of ringfenced funding, principally via the Department for Education’s Innovation Programme but other government departments, including the Departments of Health and Work and Pensions as well as the Home Office have also adopted this piecemeal approach to tackling issues such as parental conflict and parental misuse of alcohol. Whilst funding is welcome, this short termist approach is unlikely to make a meaningful difference to the complex, entrenched social problems so many children and families face. It’s time for change, beyond one parliamentary cycle - without this we will never be 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.

The main Safeguarding Pressures Phase 6 research report will be published in full on the ADCS website at 00:01 on Wednesday 7 November–

Stuart Gallimore will be available for telephone interviews on Wednesday 7 November between 3.00pm – 5.00pm. Please contact the press office to arrange. Media can contact the ADCS Press Office on 0161 826 9488.

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