Fears for abused and neglected children as social services close to ‘breaking point’
PUBLISHED: 07:00 22 August 2017
The most vulnerable children in Weston-super-Mare could lose out on vital support as youth services are now ‘a shadow’ of what existed five years ago and social services are at ‘breaking point’.
The stark warning comes at a time when there has been a 70 per cent rise in the number of neglected and abused children being put on council protection plans, which are drawn up to keep them safe, over the past 10 years.
At the same time Government grants which once helped to cover youth services are being drastically reduced, with the children’s services budget taking a £1.168million cut this year.
North Somerset Council continues to provide valuable social services for youngsters in its care, but its children’s services department continually comes in over-budget – and it has been warned the continuing ‘crisis’ could harm the most vulnerable children in our community.
Cllr Richard Tucker, who sits on the council’s children’s and young person’s services scrutiny panel, said: “Our youth service has already taken a huge hit in funding reductions and is a shadow of the provision that existed before the main cutback it suffered in 2012.”
Experts warn there are few savings which can now be made without ‘having a real and lasting impact upon crucial services that many children and families desperately rely on’.
Referrals to North Somerset Council’s social services department for children who are thought to be at risk of harm or neglect have risen by nine per cent in the past 10 years.
The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents authorities around the country, said social care is being pushed to breaking point.
Cllr Richard Tucker, who sits on the council’s children’s and young person’s services scrutiny panel, said: “We hear reports from officers at each scrutiny panel of the dire financial pressures on the directorate and the projected trends of long-term increasing demand on the council’s children’s services.
“Managing the costs and numbers of looked-after children in council care has been a significant worry, along with continued staffing cuts to be able to carry out all the duties across the range of responsibilities.”
One of the budget pressures the council faces is a higher reliance on agency and temporary staff, whose wages cost more than permanent staff.
Cllr Don Davies, who also sits on the scrutiny panel, says the situation means staff are always under pressure.
There are fears, too, that children are falling through the net and may already be missing out on vital support.
Cllr Davies said the loss of council-run youth centres which were once staffed by social workers meant some children may not have their problems spotted early enough.
An LGA spokesman said: “The huge financial pressures councils are under, coupled with the spike in demand for child protection support, mean the limited money councils have available is increasingly being taken up with the provision of urgent help for children and families already at crisis point, leaving very little to invest in early intervention.”
The LGA believes few savings can be made without having a ‘lasting impact upon crucial services that many children and families desperately rely on’.
Action For Children has called for the Government to provide ‘adequate funding’ so help can be given to the children who need it.