Services to protect vulnerable children in large parts of the country are seeing a dramatic ‘unfunded’ spike in demand, new analysis shows.
The County Councils Network (CCN), which represents every county council in England and 10 county unitary authorities, says that pressure on children’s service has risen most dramatically in rural councils, whilst they receive half the money urban councils get to deliver these services that children desperately need.
Last year, there were over 250,000 referrals to social services, compared to 121,324 in 2005/06 – a 107% increase in demand over the last ten years, treble the amount of any other local authority type.
At the same time, the number of young people subject to a child protection plan, which is put in place for those at serious risk of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, or neglect, has more than doubled, th 24,652 plans put in place. This is in contrast to 12,181 in 2006 – a 102% rise in a decade.
Services for vulnerable children are funded through councils’ core grants, with county authorities already receiving £292 less per head than the average council in London. This disparity in funding allocations comes on top of the estimated nation-wide funding gap by 2020 of £2bn for children’s social care services. CCN argues demand and funding pressures facing children’s social services should be given equal billing to the well-documented pressures in adult social care, otherwise the government is ‘sleepwalking’ into another funding crisis for vulnerable people. Current growing pressures are not recognised in the existing funding formula, meaning funding is failing to keep pace with the spike in demand.
The government’s review of the way local government is funded could go a long way to solving financial issues. If county authorities were funded fairly and based on demand for services, then they would be in a far better position to cope with increased demand and improve outcomes for young people.
At the same time, services could be reformed, alongside additional funding, so they work better. In recent years reforms have focused on encouraging councils to transfer services outside of local authority control.
However, leaders of England’s largest councils argue that the most cost-effective model for improving children’s services is by having a high performing council lending its support to other under-performing authority, rather than creating costly trusts or arms-length organisations that are not accountable to councillors or the public.
County social services are amongst some of the best rated in the country, helping youngsters who are at risk of harm, helps support families going through difficult personal circumstances, and care for those with disabilities.
Other reforms put forward by CCN propose overhauling mental health services for children, currently provided by the NHS, alongside improved early intervention services.
This will allow councils to put more money into preventative services and early help to quell issues before they become more serious. Evidence shows that children subject to protection plans or that have personal and family instability are less likely to be in education and employment as they go into adulthood.
Cllr Ian Hudspeth, Children’s Spokesman for CCN, said:
“The services vulnerable children desperately need to live a life most of us take for granted are coming under unsustainable pressures in rural areas, as we have seeing unprecedented demand at a time when our budgets have drastically been reduced.
“Government needs to take note on this issue sooner rather than later, otherwise we are sleepwalking into another funding crisis for services that less fortunate young people rely on. We want to give our vulnerable children the best start and opportunities in life, but we need adequate funding to do that.
“We remain confident that the government’s review of the way councils are funded could finally iron out these discrepancies and give us a funding deal that will allow us to maintain these badly-needed services at the same quality as we are delivering now. We look forward to engaging with the review in due course.”
Notes to editor
Referrals to Children’s Services statistics by local authority type:
2005/06 2015/16 % Change
CCN councils 121324 250572 +107%
Metropolitan boroughs 126235 165111 +31%
Non CCN UA 173605 109835 -37%
London councils 148125 95947 -37%
Child Protection Plans put in place by local authority type:
2005/06 2015/16 % Change
CCN councils 12181 24652 102%
Metropolitan boroughs 8175 16238 97%
Non CCN UA 5764 13072 127%
London councils 5335 8931 67%
For a full breakdown of CCN’s policy proposals and advocacy on children’s services, read our latest report, A New Deal for Counties: Our Plan for Government (pg 34)