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Safeguarding Pressures Phase 7 Research Press Release

Safeguarding Pressures Phase 7 research

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) today, publishes the full report of its latest iteration of Safeguarding Pressures research. For over a decade 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 and associated services. This report outlines pressures faced by local authorities during 2019/20 while also including a focus on activity in the first six 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 report draws together survey responses from 129 of all local authorities in England, covering 89% of England’s children and young people population. This, together with existing data, provides an insight into the safeguarding related pressures facing children’s services across the country.

As of 31 March 2020:

- There were an estimated 2.5 million initial contacts received by local authorities in 2019/20, an increase of 5% in the last 2 years

  • There were 642,980 referrals to children’s social care in 2019/20, an increase of 19% since 2008
  • The number of children subjects of child protection plans has increased by 76% since 2008
  • Adults experiencing domestic abuse, mental health difficulties or substance misuse, are the most common reasons why children come to the attention of early help and/or children’s social care services
  • The number of Section 47 Enquiries continues to rise, up 162% since 2008
  • £824 million is required just for children’s services to ‘stay still’
  • Nearly half of the respondents to the survey reported a reduction in funding ranging between 15% and 30%
  • Funding for the Troubled Families Programme continues to prop up the delivery of early help services in children’s services.

The report also captured some of the impact of the pandemic on children’s services. In the six months up to 30 September 2020:

  • It is estimated that 81,900 children were in care, an increase of 34% in 12 years and up 6% since 2018/19
  • There were an estimated 284,400 referrals to children’s social care
  • There was a 4% increase in children who were subjects of child protection plans at 30th September 2020 compared to the same period last year.

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 funding for other public agencies over the past decade have prevented children’s services and their partners from providing the kind of targeted, early work with families 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.

For the first time ADCS Safeguarding Pressures research draws on regional sector led improvement data to cover the first six months of the pandemic (1 April - 30 September 2020). The data shows how there is wide and more pronounced variation in child protection activity between local authorities, with funding and levels of deprivation just two of the reasons behind this.

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 and a rising number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. This is coupled with financial pressures mounting on local authorities, such as lost income to local areas over the past year, or the increasing costs of private placements for children in care.

Jenny Coles, ADCS President, said: “A year of disruption is impacting on children’s physical, mental and emotional health and wellbeing as well as their education. Some children and young people will have found the last few months traumatic, stressful or even scary and we are already starting to see a new cohort of families in distress that we have not worked with before requiring our help and support. However, the true effect of the pandemic on children, families and children’s services is not yet known and will be felt for many years to come. For many, this will have exacerbated pre-existing challenges such as poverty, hunger, parental ill health and domestic abuse. National recovery plans must extend beyond mitigating lost learning. There can be no delay in levelling up the social, health, education and geographical inequalities made more visible by the pandemic. Children’s life chances and all of our futures depend on it.”

She went on to say: “The seventh Safeguarding Pressures report adds to the growing evidence base showing the mounting challenges children and families are facing and the difficulties local authorities have in meeting the levels of need in our communities against the backdrop of a 50% real terms fall in local government funding over the last decade. It also shows that the herculean efforts of our workforce to adapt and support children and families during the pandemic. 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 by supporting them early. We are all committed to making this a country that works for all children, we urgently need the backing of government to make this happen.”

Safeguarding Pressures Phase 7 report, executive summary and children’s services timelines can be found here.


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