Chris Mullen, Social Care Policy Advisor
By 2020, in just 3 years’ time councils will be facing a £2 billion funding gap for children’s social care services.The figure is eye-watering, but recently a collection of academics, researchers, parliamentarians, practitioners, England’s Children’s Commissioner, but sadly not the new Children’s Minister, gathered at the latest All Party Parliamentary Group on Children to discuss the state of children’s social care services in England. Not one person in the packed committee room disputed this figure, including the Director of the National Children’s Bureau who stated there was a clear crisis in children’s social care funding.
The meeting discussed a survey of 1600 social workers -the vast majority reporting that the bar is becoming higher and higher for children and families to get support by children’s services. It’s hardly surprising.
As my last blog reported, it is only recently that the previous Conservative administration acknowledged the funding crisis in adult social care, with councils now being allowed to raise additional money through ring fenced council tax rises. But why has this not happened in children’s social care?
Is this because children don’t have immediate political power, as ageing or grey voters do, being able to trigger the issuing of P45’s of previous MP’s at the stroke of a pencil at the ballet box? Or is that children’s social care support is perceived by many voters as somehow about undeserving children or that children who receive social care support are in families who should be meeting those children’s needs and not the state?
If in these times of austerity the moral argument has been won to support the needs of our vulnerable elderly population, we must do all we can to persuade our politicians to extend this to children who are equally vulnerable!
Deaf and disabled children are also sometimes supported by children’s social care; but with resources and demand pressures, these children are getting reduced levels of support or are only experiencing social care involvement at the point where preventing abuse and neglect occurs- rather than the safety net support of services to help children and families. Sadly this reinforces the view of those children and families as being undeserving.
This is to be expected where the law is too narrow, and local authorities are not legally required to provide early intervention and early help services to children and families. This is despite mounting evidence showing that if targeted well, these services can prevent more costly state intervention later on. With limited resources, many local authorities are striving to innovate to meet rising demand for services, but ultimately have to intervene to protect children who have suffered significant harm or at risk of immediate harm.
Sometimes when a crisis occurs, new or alternative ways of thinking emerge. In 1946 Britain was broke and devastated by WW2, yet during this time of austerity it took the wisdom of a few to create the NHS which despite its problems, is fiercely supported. We need a similar revolution now. Investing in a safety net of support for all children and families as a democratic right will reap benefits for the whole of society –and that includes those who disagree with such a measure who cannot escape living alongside children and families! And also as a final thought, weren’t we all once children?