Revealed: The pandemic crisis of abuse, neglect and poverty in England | Social Protection
A looming crisis of children victims of abuse, neglect and poverty has been exposed, with increasing numbers of young people being taken into care in some of England’s most disadvantaged communities during the pandemic.
A Guardian survey of the state of children’s services over the past 18 months found a sharp increase in referrals to social services during the lockdown, along with rising costs for mental health support and a considerable backlog in family courts, with some boards collapsing under the weight of the extra work brought on by the coronavirus.
Some local authorities are expected to spend up to £ 12million on children’s services this year, and leaders say they are ‘wiped out’ as they struggle to cope with the increase in request.
Self-isolation and home schooling have placed families under increased financial strain due to unemployment or lost wages, as well as mental health and substance abuse issues. Successive closures have increased domestic violence and made it possible to overlook child and youth protection issues, as schools and some daycare centers have been forced to close.
Research and interviews with directors of children’s services across England revealed:
In Middlesbrough, the poorest local authority in England, the number of children referred to social services increased by 40% last year.
Rochdale, in Greater Manchester, ranked 15th on the government’s multiple deprivation index, received 420 referrals to children’s social services in July this year, 35% more than in July 2019, when there were 310 The city has also experienced a 35% increase in the number of families at its early assistance and backup center, with 1,310 contacts in July.
In shell, there has been a 19% increase in “struggling families” needing extra support over the past year, while the number of children in care has increased by 9%. Due to a shortage of foster families, 55 children in care in the city were moved between seven or more placements between June 2020 and June 2021.
Knowsley, in Merseyside, England’s second-most deprived local authority, last year the number of domestic violence notifications and the number of children and young people identified as being exploited in crime rose by 26%.
In London, there was a shortage of 500 reception places, forcing municipalities to compete for placements with private companies, which charge double the rate of local authorities.
It comes as the body representing directors of children’s services in England has urged the government to urgently reform the ‘cumbersome, fractured and complex system’ that some of society’s most vulnerable children lack, despite private placements for some children now costing almost £ 10,000 per week. .
The Association of Directors of Children’s Services said in the government-commissioned review of children’s social services that the cost of such placements was “deeply concerning” as well as “financially problematic.” He wants a cap on fees that private providers can charge, which he says would save “millions of dollars” and provide “intensive support sooner, closer to the communities in which children grow up.”
In June, Josh MacAlister, who heads the Children’s Welfare Review, described the children’s service system as a “tower of Jenga maintained by Sellotape.”
Deteriorating services have left more children in need of highly specialized – and expensive – mental health support. Gateshead in north-east England, which has seen an 8% increase in the number of children in care since 2019, is paying £ 9,800 per week each for the placement of two children, which is more than £ 1million a year for the couple.
Caroline O’Neill, Director of Children’s Services at Gateshead, said: “The large and growing cost of residential care for children and foster families is placing unsustainable financial pressures on local authorities. Reform is needed in the way care is delivered, with urgent need for investments to increase capacity. “
In Birmingham, in addition to a 15% increase in the number of cases year over year, the council currently has 35 children in need of mental health placement at a cost of more than £ 5,000 per week each, compared to 20 children in June 2020.
Andy Couldrick, chief executive of Birmingham Children’s Trust, said that cost, at a time when budgets have been cut by austerity, means services that keep children out of care have suffered the most. “When they [the services] disappearing is like drilling a hole in a dam, ”he said. “The pressure is colossal.
North East Lincolnshire Council is forecasting a £ 11.8million overrun for children’s services, partly blaming the cost of placing children out of the region due to a shortage of local places.
In Liverpool, the number of children entering the care system last year due to parental neglect or alcohol abuse nearly doubled, according to Steve Reddy, the city’s director of children’s services . It now has 1,535 children in care, an increase of 28% since 2018 – which, according to Reddy, was largely driven by “poverty, deprivation and unfavorable childhood experiences of parents.”
Jayne Ivory, director of children’s services at Blackburn with Darwen, said there was a recent trend of “large groups of siblings in need of care” due to “parenting ability. compromised, possibly drug addiction ”.
She said: “With children not attending school as frequently or reliably, even though vulnerable children have been there all the time, it has been more difficult for families who may not have the motivation to go to school. ‘bringing their children to school… we have reached the point where we think: enough is enough, we have to take care of them.
She said caring for children was taking longer than ever before due to delays in the justice system, with cases now taking 56 weeks instead of 32.
In nearby Manchester, court delays have reached a year, creating more anxiety for children. Paul Marshall, Manchester’s director of children’s services, called on the government to provide more funds to help vulnerable children, noting that Manchester City Council has suffered 40% cuts in central government grants since 2010.
“If we don’t get a proper settlement that is realistic and achievable, I don’t know where we’re going to go to save money as a council, because we’re down to some serious stuff, basically,” he said. declared. “The pantry is empty.”
A government spokesperson said: “Throughout the pandemic, we have made the safety of vulnerable children a priority by investing in the frontline charities that directly support them, providing billions in additional funds to children. counseling and keeping schools, nurseries and colleges open to these children.
“We have increased the Funding Boards that Funding Boards can access to provide services, including children’s services, to over £ 51 billion. At the same time, we are providing £ 24million for a regional children’s social protection stimulus fund, aimed at improving outcomes for the most vulnerable children. “