Children must fall deeper into crisis before getting help, suggests survey of social workers.
- In a survey of over 1,600 social workers, 70 per cent said that the threshold for qualifying as a ‘child in need’ had risen over the last three years.
- 60 per cent said that the resources available to children’s services influenced decisions about whether to offer early help.
New research by the National Children’s Bureau (NCB) on behalf of a cross-party group of MPs suggests it is getting harder for vulnerable children to access the support they need.
The survey of over 1,600 social workers in England found that thresholds for a range of interventions have risen over the last three years, meaning children have to reach a higher level of need before qualifying for help, with many saying financial pressures are to blame.
The survey is published as the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children launches a new inquiry into thresholds for children’s social care. In March, after a year-long inquiry into the challenges facing children’s services, the APPGC warned that many were finding it increasingly difficult to meet rising levels of demand, a view supported by many others, including the Local Government Association, which has warned that children’s social services are reaching breaking point and face a £2bn funding gap by 2020.
More than 1,600 social workers from across the country responded to the survey conducted by NCB in association with the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), shedding light on experiences from the front line.
Most social workers said that thresholds have risen across all levels of intervention: early help; services for children in need; child protection plans and taking children into care:
- Local authorities are legally required to provide services to any child whose health and development is at risk without extra support. Seven out of ten (70 per cent) social workers said the threshold for qualifying as a ‘child in need’ had risen over the last three years.
- Children’s services are also expected to provide support for struggling families, known as ‘early help’, to prevent them from needing statutory intervention. Two-thirds (66 per cent) said that thresholds for receiving early help had generally risen in the last three years.
- Social workers also reported that thresholds for receiving more urgent support had risen. Half (50 per cent) said thresholds had risen for making children the subject of a child protection plan and 54 per cent said the same about applying for a care order. These steps are usually only taken when a child is at risk of, or suffering, neglect or abuse.
The survey also found evidence that financial pressures played a role in driving these changes. Six out of ten (60 per cent) of social workers responding to the survey said that the finances available to children’s services influenced decisions about whether to offer early help ‘very much’ or ‘to a great extent’.
61 per cent said this also applied to decisions about whether children qualified for statutory support as ‘children in need’, and smaller numbers said it applied to decisions about care orders (45 per cent) and child protection plans (33 per cent)
Tim Loughton, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children, said:
‘This is an important piece of work providing extensive evidence from many social workers who deal with these issues day in day out across the country and must be addressed urgently by ministers.
‘There is now a very real fear that intervention for an increasing number of children is being determined not by vulnerability and threat of harm but by finances and availability of support. As we know from bitter experience that is a false economy, both financially and socially, which can have a lasting impact on a child’s life chances.
‘We risk entering a perfect storm where rising numbers of children in need, increasingly stretched social workers and a growing number of children’s services departments coming up wanting in inspections and having to focus on restructure, will inevitably mean more vulnerable children are unable to get the attention they need at the early stage when it can have the greatest impact.’
Anna Feuchtwang, Chief Executive of the National Children’s Bureau, said:
‘This is further evidence that children’s social care is becoming an emergency service, as councils struggle to meet their statutory duties to vulnerable children with dwindling resources and rising need. Central Government must act now, so that struggling families and children get the help when they need it, not just when they’re in immediate danger of harm. We also urge the Government to think bigger and consider how changes to health, welfare and housing policy can create the right conditions for children to thrive.’
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