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.

Election 2017: Education funding and deaf children

Brian_Gale

Brian Gale, Director, Policy and Campaigns

One of the big election hot potatoes is around education funding, with many parents concerned about possible cuts to the money schools get.

But it’s not just schools that are experiencing challenges – services for deaf children and other children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are also under pressure.

It’s true that the Government have protected, and provided some additional SEND funding. But it’s also clear in many areas that this isn’t enough. Too many local authorities have, or are planning to, cut the vital services upon which deaf children rely.

There are various reasons why the government’s ‘protection’ isn’t enough.

  • It doesn’t take into account inflation or increases in wages and pension contributions, so will still constitute a cut for many local authorities in real terms.
  • It also fails to take into account the fact that the number of children and young people with SEND are rising across the board, including deaf children.
  • More children are being placed in special or residential schools, which will be more expensive to the local authority. There’s been a 19% increase in special school places in the last 5 years.
  • New legal duties and policies means that services are expected to do more to ensure more childcare is available for young children and to support deaf young people over 16. Whilst there are positive intentions behind these changes, the extra funding provided has not been enough to meet their ambitions.

To fund the shortfall during the past 3 years, over 75% of local authorities have had to take more than £300million from school budgets to try to meet their legal obligations to children with SEND. Even that has not been sufficient to stop some children with SEND experiencing cuts to the support they receive.

More worrying is a proposal by the Government to stop local authorities using school budgets to meet the needs of an increasing number of disabled children requiring support. This could leave families facing the prospect of cuts to the support their disabled children receive.

We’ve been monitoring and challenging reductions to spending on deaf children’s education across England for the last seven years as part of our Stolen Futures campaign. Many of the parents we work with will be seeking reassurance that the next Government will do more to protect these vital services.

One way the Government could do this is by putting specialist education support services for children and young people with SEND, such as Teachers of the Deaf, onto a statutory footing. This would mean that local authorities would in future have a legal duty to ensure sufficient specialist support is provided. We think that putting these services on a statutory footing will protect them from funding cuts and help make sure that deaf children get the support they need to get a good education.

Do you agree? If so, ask the people standing for election in your area what they will do to protect services for deaf children if they get elected. Will they commit to support a new legal duty on local authorities to provide specialist education services for children and young people with SEND?

Find out more about our election work on our website.