Children's Services – Group Leader's Comment – 20 October 2017

These weekly bulletins are designed to link with current issues in the national media. You may wish to use them to create press releases of your own to your local press, linking with national stories. You can also use them for motions to council or add them to the scrutiny agenda. Last week I focused on housing and this week it's children.

Children's services are an important and high risk area for councils. Everyone has a responsibility to help keep our children safe, both directly in our care and in our communities.

However, we face a £2bn gap by 2020. Children's services budgets last year were overspent by £605m in England. We spend far less on children than on HS2.

Over the last 10 years we have seen an increase in the number of children subject to child protection enquiries from 71,800 in 2005/06 to 170,000 in 2015/16. The total number of looked after children has reached record levels at over 72,000 in 2016/17, equating to 90 children coming into care every day. The most common reasons for intervention are debt, domestic abuse and substance misuse.

Four million children and rising are in poverty, two thirds of these with parents in work. With widening gaps in our safety nets, many families are in precarious positions while public services and the voluntary sector also struggle.  

Areas where Universal Credit has been trialled have seen double the national average of people accessing food banks. Charities and housing associations have seen tenant debt rocketing. Sadly a vote to delay introduction of Universal Credit was defeated and the rollouts across the country continue this week. This could put more children at risk and increase the pressure on our services still further.

All authorities with children in care are corporate parents and many have our members in shadow cabinets or leading scrutiny. Three of our members in leadership positions made it to the National Children and Adult Services Conference (NCASC) in Bournemouth this week. The annual cross party LGA members and Directors conference is excellent, and I hope more of our members will make it this time next year.

Representing our group on the LGA board is Gillian Ford. You can read her notes on the conference here. "The focus on Children’s Services at this year’s conference highlighted the financial pressures...With increasing numbers of children coming into care, rising numbers of children with special educational needs and disabilities, and the shortfall in mental health provision, the system cannot be sustained indefinitely. Funding must match demand, when supporting vulnerable children and young people.”

We have also launched Bright Futures, our cross party campaign on the funding of services for children and young people, which is backed by sound data analysis.

Highlights for NCASC for me were the private sessions with ministers where we directly challenged the funding gap and the new requirements in the Better Care Fund for councils who already struggle with Government targets for getting people out of hospital, directly raising your issues as described in a previous bulletin. We tackled the Minister of State for Children and Families, Robert Goodwill, on funding and the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Health, Jackie Doyle Price. One message from health was that care has never been free whereas the NHS has to be fully funded.

Changes in children's policy are on the way, with a Green Paper on children’s mental health due out shortly. The Independent Inquiry into the historic sexual abuse of children also continues its work. There is a new invitation from the Independent inquiry for people to share their experiences through their “Truth Project” to influence improvements in the system. 

You may like to take part in our annual "tweetathon" #OurDay, to tell the world about your work in children’s services, or any other area. #OurDay showcases the Council work you do to keep our communities flourishing. If on social media on 21 November, why not sign up to take part? And please also sign up to the thunderclap.

Finally, I hope you can make it to one of our excellent regional conferences coming up in the next couple of weeks, always inspirational and fun. I look forward to seeing you soon.