Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Nothing is more important

Nothing can be more important than trying to ensure the security, health and safety of our children, which will also give them a platform to realise their true potential.
For all sorts of reasons, there are times when parents are unable or incapable of providing the nurture their children deserve. It can be from birth to adulthood. Domestic violence and mental health problems predominate. And, of course, making a judgement about whether it is reasonable or required of the state to intervene goes right to the heart of the debate about human rights – of children and of parents – and about our collective expectations of child-care in a modern civilised society.
What is inevitably the case is that, if parents object to intervention or if the representatives of the state (social workers, doctors, health visitors) don’t intervene appropriately or timely, there will be significant adverse media coverage and the search for those to blame. Sometimes the criticism is entirely justified. At other times, a public balanced analysis and critique is impossible because of the need to respect confidentiality.
Inquiries in to the tragic deaths of Victoria Climbie, Baby P and others resulted in some significant changes in practice and procedures relating to young children. It is not surprising that, if professionals are criticised for not intervening, the response has been to become risk averse, to intervene quicker and firmer, and for more children to be admitted to the care system.
The shocking sexual exploitation of young, already vulnerable, teenagers in many towns and cities – with criminal cases to come over many years – has challenged attitudes towards and responses to how we need to protect young people who often don’t have their own best interests in mind. The rising incidence of knife crimes seems largely determined by the exploitation of vulnerable teenagers by drug dealers.
What is clear is that the vast majority of teenagers who become involved in sexual, physical and financial exploitation have been identified as at risk many years’ earlier, which suggests that we need to have earlier and firmer intervention.
However, it is clear that the government’s cuts are actually having the biggest impact on prevention initiatives. SureStart centres continue to close. Expenditure on youth services and crime prevention work with teenagers has been cut by more than 50% since 2010. This suggests we are building up even bigger problems for the long-term.
Since 2010, the number of Section 47 investigations – relating to the most serious concerns – have more than doubled. The numbers of children taken into local authority care has risen by a quarter in the last decade.
There are now more than 75,000 children in local authority care – nearly three-quarters with foster parents - with the 10-15 years old being the largest group. The number of adoptions peaked in 2015 and it is suggested that the now higher success rate of IVF has led to a reduction in potential adoptive parents.
Meanwhile, as the Institute for Fiscal Studies has recently confirmed, funding for children’s services has fallen from c£850m then to c£700m this year with nearly every council significantly over-expending. This, together with the over-spending on adult social care, is why other council services, like libraries, have been and will continue to be hit so badly.
In the budget, the Chancellor announced and extra £84m funding for children’s services in 20 councils over the next 5 years. That is rather a gnat’s bite in comparison to the £3bn shortfall estimated by 2025.
Although, in response to the increase in demand, the number of social work posts has increased, the vacancy rate is running at about 17% and there are thousands of temporary and agency staff. This is clearly not efficient or effective, but an understandable response to funding uncertainty.
It is against this background that the all-party Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, which I chair, has launched a new inquiry into the funding and provision of local authorities’ children’s services.
Our inquiry will investigate what impact public spending has had on the provision of care services, and the approaches local authorities have taken in addressing funding constraints.
It will consider how financial support for children’s services can be made more sustainable in the short and long term and examine the potential for innovative approaches to the design and delivery of services.
Of course, we are expecting that the majority of submissions of evidence will be from a wide range of statutory and voluntary organisations and from academia and think-tanks.
But, I also hope that individuals – children who have been in care, foster parents and other professionals including social and youth workers and police officers – who have ideas and innovative approaches to the design and delivery of children’s services which could support financial sustainability, will also submit evidence.
To find out more or send a written submission, go to