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.

It’s been too long! A call to update 2009 Safeguarding Disabled Children guidance.

Chris Mullen, Social Care Policy Advisor

Chris Mullen, Social Care Policy Advisor

In 2009, the Government in England published guidance on safeguarding disabled children. Guidance which, when read now, seems a world away from the way social care is delivered, written and even spoken about in 2018.

Since 2009 there have been some significant changes in the area of social care support affecting deaf children across the UK. There have been new laws, including:

• The Equality Act 2010 (UK) which addresses the discrimination faced by certain recognised groups, including disabled people, whether at school or in the community.
• The Children and Families Act 2014 (England) which includes arrangements for services to work together to support children with special educational needs and disabilities.
• The Social Service and Well-Being (Wales) Act 2014 and the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014, both changing the way we consider how to support children and adults, focusing on promoting well-being and preventing need in the first place.

Since 2009, The National Deaf Children’s Society has commissioned research and undertaken surveys which confirm the barriers that deaf children face in accessing children’s social care in England. Specialist deaf sensory social workers have been replaced by social workers who now have to work across a huge range of children’s disabilities, leading to a possible ‘jack of all trades and master of none’ situation.

In addition, since 2009, the population of looked after children across the UK has risen from around 80,000 to 94,000. At the same time, funding cuts have led to the Local Government Association saying it will need £2 billion to address the shortfall in funding for children’s services by 2020.

We have also seen the ending of Aiming High for Disabled Children funding and the soon-to-be replacement of Local Safeguarding Children’s Boards in England with new, untried ‘Safeguarding Partners’ tasked with leading on safeguarding children in their areas.

Deaf children are one of the most vulnerable groups of people in society. Despite this there is no evidence to support the view that we are safeguarding deaf and disabled children any better than before.

Scotland, however, have recognised this and in 2014 updated its guidance relating to disabled children and brought it in line with their new way of supporting children and families.

Given the significant changes which have taken place in social care over the last almost decade, The National Deaf Children’ Society and The National Working Group on Safeguarding Disabled Children, are calling on the Government to update their guidance on social care. This new guidance will need to support professionals working with disabled children on the front-line, in order to adequately recognise these children’s needs and rights.

It’s a small step but a necessary one in the effort to give deaf and disabled children the same protection from harm that other children have.

Social Care, Deafness…and the Oscars

Chris Mullen, Social Care Policy Advisor

Chris Mullen, Social Care Policy Advisor

Rachel Shenton’s Oscar-winning film, The Silent Child, highlights the importance of deaf children getting access to language and communication. If a deaf child is deprived of language, deprived of any opportunity to communicate with others, their fundamental human rights are being breached. In the film we see 4 year old Libby taught to flourish when she is taught sign language.

For everyone working in social care, this film is a timely reminder that deafness is not an issue to be forgotten about and brushed under the carpet. Deafness is not a learning disability and, with the right support from parents, education and other services, deaf children can achieve just as well as any other children.

But in reality, children’s social care, and social workers aren’t intervening early enough to prevent deaf children suffering neglect through language deprivation. There are many reasons for this but it’s important to remember that we must not blame parents, the majority of whom have had no experience of deafness and are seeking advice and support to just do their best.

There were once specialist social workers for deaf people working with both deaf children and deaf adults – but an unintended consequence from the separation of children and adult social care services in the mid-2000s meant these teams were no longer viable. Specialist children’s social workers joined general children’s disability teams, and due to pressures on time and resources, support for deaf children drastically reduced. This specialist expertise has now disappeared. Well-meaning professionals, who don’t have the training or the knowledge, are now all too often making dangerous decisions about what is best for deaf children.

I’ve seen some shocking cases. When discussing how a profoundly deaf young person, with significant additional needs, and whose first language was British Sign Language, could be supported in a mainstream children’s home, a senior manager suggested to me they could be ‘taught to lip-read’ and not given any sign language support.
Another social worker told a parent that their child didn’t need any language support as he was “only deaf”. I don’t blame the social workers here – it’s a lack of deaf awareness and a lack of real understanding of the lived experience of a deaf child.
But highlighting these issues isn’t enough. We need action. Research shows that the early years are critical for developing language and communication skills, and if neglected, they have long term consequences. But at the moment, the social care system doesn’t put early intervention services on a statutory footing. What’s more, we are seeing cuts across the country to posts like Teachers of the Deaf who are a key part of an early intervention service.

All of this highlights how deaf children and their social care needs are falling through the cracks. There are various options for how this can be improved. One answer could be to identify and train existing social care professionals as ‘champions’ for deaf children’s social care within their area. Neighbouring local authorities could jointly commission posts and share their resources. Deaf and other sensory charities could also be used more effectively. All of these are viable options for making sure that deaf children don’t get left behind in the social care system, as is sadly so often the case.

So while there are many challenges ahead, I hope that with a clear understanding of the problems, and just a little bit of Oscar glory, we can start to improve social care for deaf children across the UK.

There’s a gaping hole in our ability to support our most vulnerable children

Chris Mullen

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[1].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.[2] 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[3]. 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?

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https://ndcscampaigns.com/category/social-care/

[1] https://www.local.gov.uk/about/news/councils-face-2-billion-funding-gap-support-vulnerable-children-2020

[2] https://www.cypnow.co.uk/cyp/news/2004211/child-protection-thresholds-rising-due-to-budget-pressures

[3] https://www.ncb.org.uk/resources-publications/resources/no-good-options-report-inquiry-childrens-social-care-england

General election 2017: Meeting the social care needs of deaf children

Christopher Kang-Mullen – Social Care Policy Adviser

The social care needs of the elderly has been getting a lot of attention during the election – but it’s important to remember the social care needs of disabled children too.

 

Social care covers a wide range of services which councils provide to support and protect disabled children and children in need to live at home and enable them to develop socially, intellectually and emotionally. This can include important services such as family centres, holiday clubs residential respite placements, child protection services and looking after children who for different reasons are not able to live at home safely.

Many deaf children and young people need additional support for their needs to be met and, whilst many families can do this, other families may need some help to ensure this happens.

Since 2010, there have been significant cuts to council budgets from central government. In March, the All Party Parliamentary Group for Children’s year-long investigation into the state of children’s social care. Their No Good Options report found that 89% of directors of children’s social care services are now struggling to meet their statutory duties to meet disabled and vulnerable children.

Even before the cuts started, we knew that deaf children had been struggling to get social care support. This is because of the demise of specialist sensory social workers and teams. As a result, in too many areas, support is too often only being provided by social workers with no real expertise in deafness or an understanding of the short and long term risks that deafness can pose unless the right support is in place.

As budgets shrink, councils will naturally focus their resources on protecting those children who at the greatest risk of abuse and support those who are cannot remain at home. This will inevitably mean that more disabled and vulnerable children will not get the support they need early on but much later when issues have become far worse.

With limited resources, councils must protect those who are in most need. But we believe that councils must also provide a range of ‘preventative’ community and leisure activities that help disabled and vulnerable children and their families feel supported, valued and able to participate and contribute to their communities as other children and families. As the No Good Options report noted, for every one pound we spend on preventative services we spend four pounds on child protection.

The current focus on the funding of adult social care has ignited a clear debate, showing the challenges that must be addressed. We also want to see politicians and parties also address children’s social care funding, recognising what social care means in its widest sense and the need for early preventative support for deaf children and other disabled and vulnerable children. We call on all political parties to make this goal a reality.

If you agree, please ask the candidates in your area what they will do to support the social care needs of deaf and other disabled children. Take a look at our website for more information and election resources.

Cast a spell on the inspectors…

Sophia-James-cropped

Sophia James, Policy and Campaigns Officer, National Deaf Children’s Society

With the evenings darkening as winter creeps in, the inspectors aren’t wasting any time. Round two of the Ofsted and CQC inspections into special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) has kicked off faster than a Boxing Day sale (yes, the shops already have their Christmas stock in). Feeling the need for speed, the inspectors have visited five local areas in the first month.

If you’re lucky enough to live in Herefordshire, Bexley, Hartlepool, Plymouth or Surrey, you’ve already had a visit. We’re curious to know if you had any idea the inspections were taking place? Did you get involved? Give your feedback here.

Cast your spell

 If your area hasn’t been visited yet, you still have the chance to talk to inspectors about the support you get locally. All towns and cities will be inspected within the next five years, so don’t miss your opportunity to cast a spell. To find out more about what you need to do, check out The Buzz if you’re under 18 or have a look at our website.

 Trick or Treat

Reports from the first set of inspections were released over the summer holidays. Initially, in our view, the reports consisted of broad, general statements about SEND services across education, health and social care. Only four out of the seven reports released gave any specific mention of deafness, and even then, these were rarely detailed references to services.

That said, there are certainly some treats in these reports; they are the first ever focused reports into SEND services at a local level. In some reports, the inspectors have demonstrated they are listening to parents of deaf children and flagging up their concerns. Ofsted and the CQC are also making efforts to alert people to the fact these inspections are taking place on social media.

With Halloween fast approaching and reports soon to be released, it’s worth asking the question – will this next set of reports hold more tricks or treats for deaf children and young people?

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New NDCS survey into local authority social care provision for deaf children

Christopher Kang-Mullen - Social Care Policy Adviser

Christopher Kang-Mullen – Social Care Policy Advicer

NDCS has published a report about the results from a survey of all local authorities in England into the social care arrangements they have in place to consider the needs of deaf children.

Deaf children are recognised in law as ‘disabled children’. This means that local authorities should:

  • provide services to help families bring up disabled children and help them lead lives as non-disabled children do.
  • make sure that the range of services they provide are accessible to disabled children e.g. recreation facilities, childcare provision and children’s centres.
  • provide additional support where felt necessary to disabled children and their families.

This additional support is usually done through assessments by children’s social care teams. For example, the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 means that deaf children could benefit from important technology equipment such as vibrating alarm clocks, pagers and altering devices to ensure their safety and promote their developing independence.

This survey has found that:

  • many social care disabled children’s teams have high thresholds to access their teams and so will only assess disabled children with more than one disability.
  • many disability social care teams do not have any clear arrangements in place to consider the social care needs of deaf children. They often assume that education services are expected to provide all the support to deaf children need.
  • only 16 % of local authority social care teams have a designated worker for deaf children.
  • 49 % of social care teams said their eligibility criteria did not include any specific reference to deaf children or sensory impairment.
  • deaf children’s social care  needs are recognised best where there are either designated social care workers with deaf children or where eligibility criteria to access children’s social care teams clearly includes deaf children.

Where necessary after an assessment social care support might include:

  • access for parents and extended family members to learn sign language where felt necessary to meet their child’s communication;
  • vibrating alarm clock or door alert system to help a deaf child/young person become more independent as they get older.
  • costs of transport to enable a deaf child to attend a short break activity to socialise with other deaf children; or
  • providing a communication support worker for a deaf child to access a mainstream activity e.g scouts. (such support could come via direct payments by children’s social care or part of an personal budget for those children who have Education Health and Care plans).

While health and education are key services involved with deaf children and families, social care should therefore be offered to families to ensure that they can support their deaf child at home as early as possible.

NDCS will now be taking action through our network of English regional directors seeking to challenge and work with local authorities to ensure they make arrangements to consider the social care needs of deaf children and their families.

The full report can be accessed at: http://www.ndcs.org.uk/professional_support/our_resources/social_care.html

More information on social care rights can be accessed at: http://www.ndcs.org.uk/family_support/positive_parenting_families/social_care.html

If you would like any advice accessing support from children’s social care services contact the NDCS Freephone Helpline at 0808 800 8880 or email helpline@ndcs.org.uk.