Councils ‘letting down’ children in danger

Children are being left home alone in Yorkshire
Children are being left home alone in Yorkshire
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THOUSANDS of children in England referred to social services over concerns including abuse and neglect are not getting the help they need, a charity has said.

Action for Children has warned that up to 140,000 youngsters do not meet the threshold for social care and are not referred to early help after their case is closed.

In their latest report, Revolving Door, the charity said vulnerable children not at crisis point are being left without help as cash-strapped councils are forced to shrink or abandon services.

Sir Tony Hawkhead, chief executive of Action for Children, said: “Our report turns a spotlight on the thousands of families up and down the country who are not getting help, despite concerns having been raised about the welfare of a child.

“Social care can’t just be there for when a family is in meltdown.

“Every day too many children’s lives are overshadowed by drugs, alcoholism, domestic violence and neglect - a toxic recipe for all kinds of problems now and in later life.

“Punishing savings targets have given local authorities no option but to drastically shrink or abandon services, including family support, leaving large numbers of children on the fringes of social care without the help they need.

“We are missing opportunities to help these children and their families at an early stage.”

In the report, Action for Children said it sent Freedom of Information (FoI) requests to 152 local authorities in England.

It asked how many children had their case closed after assessment, whether they were referred to early help after their case was closed, and what were the three most common concerns which prompted children to be referred to social care.

Responses show that in 2015-2016 184,500 children’s needs assessments were closed as “no further action” as they did not meet the threshold for statutory services.

The charity said it estimated around one in four of these families were referred for early help services - such as children’s centres or domestic violence programmes - after their case was closed.

But an estimated 140,000 children did not meet the threshold for social care and were not referred to early help after their case was closed.

The charity said it had to estimate national figures because not all local authorities could provide information on children’s outcomes after their case was closed.

Using figures obtained from the local authorities through the FoI they created regional estimates, and then used these to generate a national picture of the response to children below statutory thresholds.

With its report published today, the charity said it is calling on the Government to strengthen the legal framework for early help services and provide adequate funding to local authorities so they can provide help as soon as children need it.

Sir Tony added: “If the Government is serious about looking after the most vulnerable children in society, it must urgently reinvest in local services that are proven to tackle the root causes of neglect and abuse - not just hope it can firefight the symptoms.”

Richard Watts, chairman of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, welcomed the report and said it “rightly recognises the increased pressures” facing local authorities.

“As a result of funding cuts and huge increases in demand for services, the reality is that services for the care and protection of vulnerable children are now, in many areas, being pushed to breaking point,” he said.

“The number of referrals to local authority children’s services has increased by almost 9% over the past decade, while the number of children placed on a child protection plan as a result of those referrals has increased by more than 90%.

“This demonstrates the increasing level of need that councils are seeing, and the significant efforts they are taking to ensure that children are robustly protected.”

Mr Watts said not all referrals will need a formal intervention and that referrals closed with no further action will not necessarily leave a child in need.

He added that councils were doing everything they could to respond to the significant under funding in children’s social care.

“However, they are at the point where there are very few savings left to find without having a real and lasting impact upon crucial services that many children and families across the country desperately rely on,” he said.