Ninety children are being taken into care every day in England and Wales and it's claimed social workers are "firefighting" the most serious cases late into the night. The latest government figures show 32,810 children were taken into care in 2017. The total number in care is a record 72,670 - up 3% on 2016. Council bosses, who are responsible for child protection services, says it's the biggest rise in seven years.
Prof Ray Jones, who works in social services improvement, says hard-pressed staff fear children are slipping through the net as workers try to keep up with rising pressures. He added, "And they are not able to work through potential cases where children are unhappy and distressed, because they are having to concentrate on cases where there is an immediate danger."
The Local Government Association says it comes as children's services face a £2bn a year funding gap by 2020. Local authorities had suffered an average 40% cuts in funding since 2010. An estimated 600 youth centres closed between 2012 and 2016 while 1,200 children’s centres have shut since 2010. The report added: “The symptoms of poverty are driving increased demand [for children’s services] and although councils continue to do their best to support vulnerable families and children, the lack of sustainable funding must be addressed as a matter of urgency.”
The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) said austerity policies and an increasingly fragmented approach to public services were taking a toll on communities and punishing the most economically fragile households.
“The unintended consequence of the government’s austerity programme has been to drive up demand for [child protection] services as more and more families find themselves at the point of crisis with little or no early help available,” it said in a report.
The ADCS president, Alison Michalska, said long delays for universal credit payments, alongside welfare policies such as the two-child limit and housing benefit cuts, were causing difficulties for poorer families struggling to pay for food and rent. She said," Families living in deprived areas will continue to suffer unless some flexibility can be introduced to the currently inflexible benefits regime. For example, in some local areas in which universal credit has been rolled out the wait for benefits is, in some cases, exceeding six weeks which means that families are struggling to pay for basic essentials such as food and rent. The rigidity of the benefits system also compounds the impact of insecure, erratic and unstable employment. There is a real need for government to consider how the benefit system can reflect and deal with the issues that affect families today.”