William Eichler 01 May 2018

Whitehall cuts ‘undermining’ support services for vulnerable children

Government funding reductions have forced councils to cut back on early support services for vulnerable children, an education policy think tank has found.

A new report into vulnerable children and social care in England has revealed the extent of the impact of the Government’s austerity agenda on support services for children.

Published by the Education Policy Institute (EPI), it found local authorities have been forced to cut early support services since 2010, as well as use their budget reserves, just to maintain statutory services.

It also found over half of councils in all regions except London were rated ‘Requires Improvement’ or ‘Inadequate’ by Ofsted.

Over the last eight years, there has been a rise in the number of children classed as ‘in need’ and issued with Child Protection Plans and council care orders.

Children in need are those deemed unlikely to achieve reasonable health and development without the provision of services, including those with a disability.

This increase is partly due to social care authorities reacting to high-profile serious case reviews, but, the EPI found, it is also the result of cuts to early intervention (EI) services and deprivation.

The report also warned social care staff were showing signs of ‘strain’, with ‘burn out’ becoming more common. In 2017, 63% of leavers had worked less than five years.

In this ‘challenging context’ - as the EPI report described it - local authorities have been forced to rely more on agency workers to fill in the high rates of vacancies.

The think tank noted this high rate of staff turnover also had a negative impact on children in need, who found it difficult to develop trusting relationships in this context.

More positively, the number of starters was substantially higher in 2017 compared to previous years. The EPI suggested this may be the result of local recruitment and retention schemes.

The EPI’s report concluded that with child poverty projected to increase, the strains on the system are unlikely to decrease without significant additional spending.

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