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Children’s safety at risk from wildly varying system of social care

VULNERABLE children are at risk from a postcode lottery of social care thresholds as councils are “chronically underfunded,” an inquiry has found.

The all-party parliamentary group (APPG) for children also found that kids must often reach grave danger before getting any help at all.

More than four in five directors of children’s services surveyed said children facing similar problems get different levels of help early on depending on where they live, with almost two thirds saying this applied to cases where the child was at significant risk.

Of the 1,700 social workers surveyed, 70 per cent said the threshold for helping “children in need” had risen in the last three years, with half saying the point at which a child protection plan was triggered had gone up.

APPG chair Tim Loughton said: “In some places, the pressure on children’s services is so acute it is leaving social workers feeling that the only tool available to them to keep a child safe is to remove them from their family.

“As a result, families may look at these skilled and caring professionals with mistrust. But it is the woeful underfunding by government of a proper breadth of social care interventions that is to blame.”

Budget constraints have been found to influence decisions on whether or not to help a child and ministers have called for urgent action to address the funding crisis.

The inquiry heard incidences where children and families already receiving support were deemed to no longer reach the threshold for help because their local authority was shifting its priorities to more acute cases.

National Children’s Bureau director Anna Feuchtwang, said: “It makes no moral sense that families are left to face crisis and children are put at risk of serious harm because services are chronically underfunded.

“What’s more, it makes no financial sense. The evidence from social workers, academics and service leaders is overwhelming: early help services reduce the need for crisis support later on.”

The APPG has recommended the government consults on how to introduce a legal duty on local authorities to provide early help to children, young people and their families, providing a statutory “safety net” for these services.

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