Neglected and abused children in Hammersmith and Fulham are increasingly likely to be in crisis and at risk of significant harm by the time social services reach them, figures show, writes Harriet Clugston.
A parliamentary report has warned that children’s services in England are at “breaking point”, and need more than £3billion in additional funding by 2025.
The cross-party Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee said cash-strapped councils were having to reduce spending on services they are not legally obliged to provide.
These include children’s centres and parenting programmes, which could provide early intervention for families. This is increasing pressure on social workers by “storing up problems for the future”, when more complex interventions are needed, the committee found.
The latest Department for Education figures show children’s services in Hammersmith and Fulham are no exception. About 930 children were judged to be in need of support after being referred to the council’s social services in the 12 months to March 2018.
Of these, 581 were made the subject of a child protection enquiry, which the British Association of Social Workers says indicates a child may already be at crisis point.
Some families with children in need may simply be given advice or referred to services that can help, such as counselling or after-school clubs. But when social workers suspect a child is suffering or is at risk of harm they will make what is known as a Section 47 enquiry, to determine if they need to step in.
If they conclude the child is at risk, they must then decide whether to put a protection plan in place. The proportion of children in need who are the subject of Section 47 enquiries in Hammersmith and Fulham has increased from 23 per cent in 2010-11 to 63 per cent in 2017-18.
Last year, 20 per cent of children were judged to be in need of a protection plan, up from 14 per cent seven years ago. The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils, said an increase in demand and government cuts had left children’s services at “tipping point”.
Anntoinette Bramble, chairwoman of the LGA’s children and young people board, said: “The fact that nine in 10 councils overspent their budgets on children’s social care in 2017-18 indicates the huge financial pressures councils all over the country are under to support vulnerable children and young people.”
The Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, said: “This hard-hitting report highlights the risks of continuing to starve children’s services of the vital funds they need to protect our most vulnerable children.
“We cannot just continue to cross our fingers and hope that vulnerable children will be alright and this report must be a final wake-up call to the Government.”
A Government spokeswoman said: “Every child deserves to grow up in a stable, loving family where they feel supported.
“We must help parents who face difficulties, to strengthen their family relationships so they can properly support their children.
“That is why we’re putting an extra £410million into social care this year, including children’s, alongside £84million over the next five years to keep more children at home with their families safely, helping reduce the demand on services.”