Neglected children in Devon increasingly at ‘crisis point’ before they get help

PUBLISHED: 11:37 19 December 2018 | UPDATED: 12:36 19 December 2018

Neglected and abused children in Devon are increasingly likely to be at risk of significant harm by the time social services reach them, figures show. Picture: Getty/Brian Jackson

Neglected and abused children in Devon are increasingly likely to be at risk of significant harm by the time social services reach them, figures show. Picture: Getty/Brian Jackson

BrianAJackson

Neglected and abused children in Devon are increasingly likely to be at risk of significant harm by the time social services reach them, figures show.

Social workers have warned that children in England face ‘generational trauma’ as a result of cuts to social services, which they say have left them struggling to cope with ‘unmanageable’ workloads.

Around 2,990 children in Devon were judged to be in need of support after being referred to social services in the 12 months to March, according to the latest Department for Education figures.

Of these children, 1,777 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.

A spokesman for the organisation said cuts to preventative services such as Sure Start Centres means struggling families are not coming to the attention of social workers early enough. This means it is ‘four times harder’ to help them.

He said: “At the same time the people who have been tasked with helping them have had their resources cut and their workload has increased.”

“It’s a vicious circle. The Government needs to acknowledge the consequences of years of austerity policies and cuts, which are far from ending despite recent promises.”

Some families with children in need may simply be given advice or referred to agencies and 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 Devon has increased from 35 per cent in 2010-11 to 59 per cent in 2017-18.

Last year, 21 per cent of children were judged to be in need of a protection plan, up from 10 per cent seven years ago.

Across England, the number of children who were identified as being in need at some point during 2017-18 decreased slightly compared to 2010.

However, there was an ‘alarming’ rise in the proportion that became the subject of a Section 47 enquiry or a protection plan.

Javed Khan, chief executive of children’s charity Barnardo’s, said the country had reached a ‘perfect storm’, with a system struggling to cope with children with increasingly complex need.

Without additional funding local authorities would be unable to stop children reaching crisis point, he added.

The minister for children and families, Nadhim Zahawi, said the Government had recently published practical advice to social workers and was improving training to help them spot and help vulnerable children.

He said: “We are investing up to £270 million in children’s social care programmes to improve the lives of vulnerable children, young people and families.

“But we are aware of the pressures on local authorities, so an additional £410 million was announced at Autumn Budget which local authorities can use to support adults and children’s social care services.”

A spokesman for Devon County Council said: “There is considerable pressure from increased demand, but despite austerity, the council is proposing a 9.4 per cent rise, or £11.5million boost, to the budget for children’s services for 2019/20.”

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