Cash is key to invest in prevention for children's services writes SIGOMA chair

Posted on May 02, 2023

When we survey our members and ask what their largest financial pressure is, the answer is often children’s services. This might be a surprise to some readers, given the large amount of attention paid in recent years to the pressures in adult social care.

This is not to say adult social care is not under pressure. Despite recent funding boosts it is clear significantly more funding is required, and the recent announcement that the Government will be delivering less funding than expected is very disappointing.

Children’s services are facing unprecedented pressures and little new funding, meaning that it is the area that our members are often most concerned about.

They are facing notable increases in the number of children in care, referrals to children’s social care and child protection enquiries, with a particular upward trend following the pandemic. These increases have come without the increase in funding to match.

These increases have not been felt evenly across the country. The most deprived quintile of councils has a rate of children in care that is 2.4 times higher than the least deprived quintile.

Blackpool, the most deprived local authority in England, has a rate of children with child protection plans that is three times higher than the national average, and 13 times that of Kensington and Chelsea.

There are considerable issues around recruitment and retention of social workers in children’s services, adding to existing pressures.

Department for Education workforce statistics show that 20% of children’s social worker posts were vacant in September 2022, up 21% from September 2021. Recruitment and retention issues and increases in demand have resulted in high and unsustainable caseloads for children’s social workers.

In March 2021, the Government-commissioned Independent Review of Children’s Social Care was launched, and the findings were published in May 2022.

The recommendations from the review included an investment of £2.6bn over four years to implement the recommended reforms. In February 2023, the Government published its plans for reforming children’s social care, which included just £200m additional funding over the next two years. Unsurprisingly, the response to this announcement from the sector was one of disappointment.

It is clear more funding is required to enable vacancies to be filled and to allow a greater focus on preventative services.

The £2.6bn set out in the MacAlister review should be the starting point for investment in the sector. SIGOMA is to shortly publish its updated manifesto. Our policies around children’s services will be a central part of this document, reflecting the importance of this sector to our members.