Supporting children early — England 0 : Wales 1?

Chris Mullen, Social Care Policy Advisor

Chris Mullen, Social Care Policy Advisor

Recently I attended the All Party Parliamentary Group for Children (APPGC) which discussed the APPGC’s second report Storing Up Trouble on the state of children’s social care services and social care funding in England.

Whilst the report highlights a crisis in children’s social care funding and makes various forthright recommendations, the emphasis on what action is required is being interpreted differently by key stakeholders. These can be broadly separated into two positions:

The first position focuses on addressing cuts in early help services, rising thresholds to access children’s social care support and a ‘demoralised’ social care workforce. The other position recognises the pressures on local authorities’ budgets but highlights the variation in the quality of support to vulnerable children across comparable local authorities and focuses more on improving decisions by social workers, their managers, commissioners and political leaders.

The meeting was attended by the Children’s Minister Nadhim Zahawi who perhaps not surprisingly adopts to the second position. He set out government action to improve the performance of social workers and champion evidence based practice through a new social work innovation fund and the What Works Centre for Social Work.

However, despite the minister mentioning the importance of early intervention on two occasions, he repeated the government’s continued position against any legislation to require local authorities to provide early help services.

At the National Deaf Children’s Society we know the importance of early intervention, a good example being the new-born hearing screening programme introduced in 2006. We also know research shows that early diagnosis and early intervention to support to parents of deaf children by a range of professionals has positive outcomes. Sadly some local authorities are being forced to cut visits by Teachers of the Deaf or support children based only on the severity of their hearing loss and not their actual level of need.

In 2011 Professor Eileen Munro took two years to review children’s social care, consulting widely across the sector and also with service users. Her conclusions were all adopted by the coalition government, except one, a duty on local authorities to provide early help services.

Wales has introduced the Social Service and Well-Being Wales Act 2014 making it the first UK country to place a duty on local authorities to provide a range of ‘preventative services’ for all people (children or adults) which ‘promote well-being’ and reduce their need for care and support. The Act has even brought in national eligibility criteria to prevent post code lottery of social care support seen across England.

If research by the What Works Centre for Social Work does show clear benefits that early help services make to the lives of children and families, the Government will find it hard to ignore the calls to take action. In the meantime, we’ll be continuing to call on the Government in England through our campaigns work for a new duty on local authorities to provide early help services.

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