Overworked social services impacting standards of care for vulnerable children

Social workers, education and law enforcement workers in England concerned at rising childhood problems and shrinking services

85% of social workers have admitted that increased pressure on agencies that interact with vulnerable children means they are no longer able to give all children on their caseloads the support and time they need. The crisis in confidence amongst professionals is reflected in a new survey by YouGov for Barnardo’s.

With rising numbers of children facing multiple and overlapping issues stemming from early trauma and neglect, social workers caseloads are so overstretched that care for the most vulnerable children may be suffering.

The full survey of social workers, education and law enforcement workers in England showed alarming levels of concern at rising childhood problems and shrinking service solutions. Because resources are stretched to breaking point, professionals are becoming increasingly focused on expensive intervention, with children already at crisis point, meaning too many families miss out on the early help they need.

Barnardo’s Chief Executive Javed Khan said:

“The results of this survey are a wake-up call. What we’re seeing is a ‘perfect storm’ of more children needing help, increasingly complex challenges, and a system struggling to cope.

“With less and less resource for early intervention, and long waits for specialist mental health services, we are in danger of failing a generation of vulnerable children who face a future without hope. It’s also a false economy – young people who don’t get help now may develop far deeper and more costly problems in the future.

“But with a radical new approach we can turn this around.”

Last year Barnardo’s supported 301,100 children young people, parents and carers across the UK. By forming strategic partnerships with local and national agencies, co-designing and delivering services, and investing our donors’ money, alongside statutory sources, we can achieve a real step change, so that young people get help long before they reach crisis point.”

Findings in the polling include:

• A majority of law enforcement workers who work with children see an increase in demand in children experiencing exploitation by criminal gangs (58%)

• 58% per cent of social workers who come into professional contact with children had seen an increase in demand for support for children who had witnessed domestic abuse in the last year.

• Almost two-thirds of social workers (65%) also blamed a postcode lottery in the consistency of support, saying that it can be a barrier to vulnerable children getting support

• Over a third of teaching staff are ‘not confident’ they have sufficient skills to deal with and respond to complex vulnerabilities that children face (37%)

In response to the issues faced, Barnardo’s is actively advocating for “Strategic Partnerships” during party conferences this autumn, based on our own successful experience. Over the past few years Barnardo’s has been investing funds alongside national/local Government funding to identify challenges and co-design and deliver responses through strategic partnering that lead to better outcomes for more children.

For example, in 2012 service leaders in Newport City Council and Barnardo’s created a continuum of integrated family support services for children in need and their families that is proving more effective in protecting children from harm and promoting family well-being. An independent evaluation found 48% of all families worked with, had achieved very positive outcomes, including children being able to remain safely at home. IPC’s evaluation of this service found that it is also highly cost-effective.