Children's Services - in crisis?

Donna Roberts


I have written before about the impact of austerity on both the social work profession and on the ability of local authorities to provide early support to vulnerable families, in order to avoid the need for children to be taken into care.

Recent data has indicated that expenditure on services for young people has been cut by £32 million in 2017/18 compared to the previous year. This appears to have been as a result of increased spending in looked-after children’s budgets.

Rising numbers of children in care has led to £320 million more being spent in this area across councils in 2017/18 compared to last year.

According to the Local Government Association, severe funding shortages for children’s services that protect vulnerable families and children have pushed nearly 9 out of 10 councils into the red. A total of 133 out of 152 councils (88%) have overspent on their budgets for children’s social care last year, amounting overall to £806 million. This overspend forces local authorities to cut or end vital early intervention services which help to prevent children being taken into care in the first place.

Children Services in crisis

The number of children in care is at a 10-year high. Government information published in November 2018 reveals that there were 75,420 children in care in England at the end of March, which is up 4 % on the previous year. In comparison, the total in 2008 was around 60,000. Overall, the number of children in care in England has risen by 27% in the last 10 years.


Alongside this, figures from Ofsted show that there has been a significant drop in approved foster carers – by 950 in just one year. A continuation of these trends will mean it will become increasingly difficult to find carers who have the right skills to meet the needs of these vulnerable children.  Barnardos is appealing for more people to consider fostering as part of its Barnardo’s Fostering Week 2019, which launched on 21 January 2019.

Local authorities are also struggling to recruit in-house foster carers which means increasing expenditure on more expensive agency foster carers. Many in-house foster carers move to independent agencies as they can offer greater levels of support to foster carers, both financially and professionally. This all comes at a cost to local authorities whose budgets are already stretched.

"Social workers are the heroes... of our society"

The Government has recently announced a plan to fund 900 places on the Frontline children’s social work training programme up to 2021. Education Secretary Damian Hinds said: “Social workers are [the] heroes, often unsung, of our society – working on the frontline to offer care and support to some of the most vulnerable children and families in the country.”

Whilst the investment of £45 billion to boost the number of social workers is welcome, it does not address the increasing child poverty and the lack of early intervention and support for families before they reach crisis point. Without the availability of support services, the social worker’s job becomes increasingly difficult and disheartening.

Money that is diverted away from support services for families is counter-productive as this lack of engagement with families can often result in the home situation deteriorating further leading to care proceedings and increasing numbers of children being placed in care. There needs to be a greater focus on increasing the resources available to vulnerable families at the earliest possible stage to prevent difficulties escalating and to help reduce the tide of children being placed in care.

Without a commitment from the Government to increased and long-term investment/funding for children’s services, it is hard to see how the current downward trends and vicious spiral can be halted.  And that is a crisis.

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