Safeguarding related pressures on local authority children’s services have been the subject of much discussion and media attention since the death of Peter Connelly in 2007. ADCS commissioned the first two phases of research in 2010 to explore the rise in safeguarding activity and evaluate the impact. There was evidence of increases in: initial contacts; referrals; children subjects of a child protection plan and children looked after. The increases appear to be the result of a wide range of reasons, some of which were positive, including better awareness amongst professionals, but also due to a rise in population, domestic abuse, and the economic downturn.
Now just over two years on from the first two phases of research into safeguarding pressures, local authorities continue to report further increases in safeguarding activity and associated pressures, and further research (Phase 3) has been undertaken to identify what changes have taken place in the past two years and what are the reasons, including a focus on permanency routes for children looked after.
Up to 115 (76%) local authorities responded to a request for data, providing children’s social care data and qualitative information about changes to safeguarding activities within their authority. In addition, policy, legislative, social and economic factors which frame the ever more complex context in which safeguarding services are now planned and delivered were considered.
Most local authorities have seen child protection referrals increase over the past year, although a few have seen decreases of 30% or more, according to research from the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS).
The number of children on a child protection plan increased by 51% between 2007-8 and 2011-12, the study showed. But this overall increase masked significant variation at a local level, with some authorities seeing rises of up to 100% in some types of activity, while others reporting decreases of 30% or more.
Those who had seen a decrease in child protection referrals attributed it to improved early help services, better multi-agency working and speeding up the process of finding permanent placements for children.
However, ADCS president Debbie Jones warned against seeing early help services as “quick fix or magic bullet”, adding that they require “sustained and sustainable funding over a number of years to have the effect that we are all seeking”.
The study showed more child protection plans are being categorised as “multiple”, involving more than one form of abuse, which correlates with evidence that social workers are faced with increasingly complex caseloads.
While neglect was the most commonly-cited reason for children to be referred, qualitative research found a deepening concern about rising domestic violence issues.
The research also showed that 40% of looked after children had not been in a stable placement for the last three years. However, 40 local authorities reported changing the placement of a looked after child because of a risk of sexual exploitation during the same period