When the Government announced its review of Children in Need (CiN), a legal definition of children supported by social care who have safeguarding and welfare needs, we hoped it would have a wide remit and look to understand how well these children’s needs are being met. Instead, the Department for Education has limited it to CiN’s educational attainments.
While this is an admirable objective, it doesn’t get to the heart of the crisis in children’s social care and the considerable funding gap, which will reach £2bn or more by 2020 according to the LGA.
The Government review assumes that children in need are the 6% of the population currently receiving support from social care teams.
CiN are those children on child in need plans, on child protection plans; looked after children; young carers and disabled children, often with severe mental health challenges. All of these children have needs identified through a children’s social care assessment or because of their disability, meaning they should receive services and support in order to have the same health and development opportunities as other children.
But what about the children that local authorities have been unable to identify and support?
An NCB survey of lead members for children’s services found that four in ten said they didn’t have enough money to meet one or more of their statutory duties to children. Over a third lacked the resources to support CiN. Surely this means that there are CiN who don’t meet the Review’s narrow definition?
The report No good options, launched in March 2017, demonstrated the challenges children's services are facing, particularly in relation to CiN under section 17 who may not need more acute interventions like a child protection plans but whose wellbeing is at risk if help isn’t provided.
Inconsistency in the number of CiN under s17 in LAs across England was particularly stark. The follow-up inquiry into thresholds for children’s social care is hearing evidence of a similar pattern - greater inconsistency and a bigger gap in provision when it comes to CiN when compared to children in care or children subject to a child protection plan.
Of course, educational attainment for CiN is important. For children with special education needs and disabilities, for example, we urgently need to ensure that early years settings have the resources and expertise to offer free childcare that is accessible to young children with SEND, so they are ready to start school alongside their peers. And we need to keep more children with SEND in the school they and their families have chosen, and avoid them being excluded and shunted to poorly regulated alternative provision.
If the funding gap for children’s social care is leaving councils struggling to meet their legal duties to CiN – something is clearly wrong. The Government needs to wake up to the fact that there are many children who meet the criteria for being a CiN who get no help, or certainly less than their peers in other areas. Only by concerted efforts across services, not just in schools and backed by proper resourcing, can we hope for real improvement in outcomes for all Children in Need.
This article was originally posted in Children and Young People Now.