Bristol City Council gave back £270k of free money which should have been spent on vulnerable kids
Bristol is having to focus ‘what resources we have on those most in need’ as cuts to funding child protection means social care is being ‘pushed to breaking point’.
There is a growing demand for children’s social care – more referrals to council child protection officers and more children put on ‘at-risk’ registers, new research has revealed.
But the money available from central Government for councils to provide those services has been cut drastically, leaving councils having to prioritise, and slash budgets in other areas, because protecting children is a legal duty.
A new study by the Local Government Association, which represents Bristol City Council, South Gloucestershire, B&NES and North Somerset councils, as well as every local authority in England and Wales, has shed new light on the dilemma facing council chiefs.
The LGA said children’s social care is being ‘pushed to breaking point’, with growing demand for support leading to three-quarters of all councils in England overspending on their budgets for children’s services.
Across the country, that has meant the bill for children’s services was half a billion pounds higher than budgeted for last year.
In England and Wales, the number of children who were the subject of child protection inquiries has rocketed from 71,800 in 2006 to more than 170,000 last year.
The LGA said half a billion shortfall would be £2 billion within a couple of years’ time, and one of the problems was money the government provides for specific child protection schemes has been cut.
There is a growing demand for children’s social care
The Early Intervention Grant has been cut by almost £500 million nationally since 2013, and is projected to drop by another £183 million by 2020.
Cllr Richard Watts, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “The fact that the majority of councils are recording high levels of children’s services overspend in their local areas shows the sheer scale of the funding crisis we face in children’s social care, both now and in the near future.
“Councils have done everything they can to respond to the growing financial crisis in children’s social care, including reducing costs where they can and finding new ways of working.
“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.
“With councils facing a £2 billion funding gap for children’s services in just three years’ time it is more important than ever that the Government prioritises spending in this area.
“There is no question that early intervention can help to limit the need for children to enter the social care system, lay the groundwork for improved performance at school and even help to ease future pressure on adult social care by reducing the pressure on services for vulnerable adults,” he added.
“However, cuts to the Early Intervention Grant have exacerbated a difficult situation where councils cannot afford to withdraw services for children in immediate need of protection to invest in early help instead.
“The reality is that services for the care and protection of vulnerable children are now, in many areas, being pushed to breaking point. Government must commit to the life chances of children and young people by acting urgently to address the growing funding gap,” he added.
The man responsible for Bristol’s child protection and children’s services said it was something they had to invest heavily in, even as budgets were cut in other areas.
“Safeguarding the wellbeing of children and young people is a core duty of every local authority and one we invest heavily in,” said John Readman, the strategic director for people at Bristol City Council.
“Over the past few years the council has managed to maintain our funding of children’s services with limited ability to increase budgets year on year.
“Whilst this has ensured that a child in need receives the support they require and children entering care are placed with carers, it does mean we are seeing annual financial pressures on the budget.
“Reductions in funding from central government and a growth in demand for services means we must focus what resources we have on those most in need,” he added.