The General Election promises a fresh start for social care, with each party presenting different ways in which they would tackle societal problems. With all of the main parties hard at work on the campaign trail, the real test will start on 9 June 2017…
Currently, the column inches have been dominated by the NHS, Brexit and, in response to the tragic events in Manchester and issues of security.
Looked after children and vulnerable families are not an election-winning topic. It is therefore somewhat surprising – and promising – to see all of the main political parties feature the neediest in their manifestos. That said, SharedVision cannot find any costed commitment for the improvement of early intervention, diversion and statutory care for children and young people.
For us, it is vital that amidst all of the political point-scoring, the needs of children and young people remain a top priority. Local candidates should keep these issues at the heart of their campaign and ensure that young adult voices are heard. If they show up on your doorstep, remember to ask your local candidate what they will do to help those children and young people who need the most help.
Call from the Local Government Association
While the respective manifestos remain somewhat speculative, it is worth remembering that the LGA is calling for urgent action from the Government to address the widening funding gap, having issued a warning that services in many areas are “being pushed to breaking point”.
The main points put forward by the LGA that point to significant increases in demand:
- In 2015-16, more than 170,000 children were subject to child protection investigations, compared with 71,800 10 years earlier
- Over the same period, the number of children in formal child protection rose by almost 24,000
- There has been an 18% rise in children looked after
If these figures continue to rise, then they will surely push social work teams to the absolute limit, and while there is plenty of talk in all of the manifestos about increasing funding, little is stressed overall about the need for early intervention, which will help to prevent many of these families from requiring costly help further down the line. We believe this is a missed opportunity, and would like to see more emphasis put on this moving forward.
Mental health care
All of the manifestos place an emphasis on child and adolescent mental health, and this is something we’re pleased to see. Earlier this year the Guardian revealed that 235,000 young people in the UK are receiving mental health care. The true figure however is much higher, as this figure is only based on responses from 60% of trusts
Additionally, figures released by NHS Digital show a shocking rise in young people self-harming, including an increase of 42% over the past decade , while almost two-thirds of headteachers are concerned about depression in pupils. One in 10 five to 16-year-olds are thought to have a mental illness.
Whilst the Department for Education said: “We want every single child, no matter where they live, to receive the same high quality care and support – and this is exactly what our reforms are set up to deliver”, the reality is that every day a great number of children in the UK are being neglected, abused or growing up in appalling conditions.
This is despite promises from the Government to meet the needs of all children and families in the country.
Meeting the needs
It is worth remembering that this is all happening against a backdrop of austerity. Available finances have gone down and services have been cut. A fresh round of inspections into the social work workforce will commence shortly, focussed on statistics and spreadsheets. It’s easy to forget that behind every number lies a story of a child or young person in desperate need of help.
At a local level, councils are consequently caught in a difficult situation, struggling to meet the needs of the most challenging and finding the required funds and resources to focus on early intervention.
We all have a responsibility to safeguard children who find themselves in need or at risk of neglect or abuse, and that means understanding where these needs and risks might be, and also where services are doing great work to support children in their area.
Systematic change is needed to ensure those children’s needs can be addressed before it is too late. We belief politicians need to remove their blinkers and deliver innovative funded policies for all vulnerable children and young adults.
The layering of all these cuts on children keeps them silent and unheard. It is time to invest in a better future for them.
SharedVision says: “Safeguarding children should be our first priority in everything we do. To see this alarming rise in levels of Child Protection and looked after children is deeply concerning.
Whilst one cause may be more reporting of concerns following a number of high profile cases; sadly we see in practice that the lack of money to even provide for the basic care of a child is featuring as a major issue.
Issues of neglect for example is costing local councils millions, and with the tremendous pressure that local authorities are under to deliver effective services and protect vulnerable children and young people… it is looking frankly quite gloomy.”
Some key points from the different manifestos:
- Will invest in measures to close the attainment gap between children from different backgrounds
- Will address homelessness, as a result of more families living in temporary accommodation. More than 120,000 children spent last Christmas without a home to call their own
- Will implement a strategy for the children of alcoholics based on recommendations drawn up by independent experts
- Will end the scandal of children being treated on adult mental health wards and stop people being sent across the country, away from their support networks, to secure the treatment they need by bringing forward the ending of out-of-area placements to 2019
- Will refocus social care to work with families in local communities to prevent children becoming at risk of going into care
- Will deliver earlier protection to victims of abuse by strengthening mandatory reporting, and guaranteeing allegations will be reported and action taken to make children safe
- Will promote the care and educational achievement of our most vulnerable children and increase support for children in kinship and foster care, and their families. It is important that other forms of care, such as kinship care and fostering, are not marginalised, as this will not result in the step-change we need to see in outcomes for looked after children. Labour will support further regulation of commercial fostering agencies, as well as commissioning a review on establishing a national fostering service.
- Will extend Staying Put arrangements to support all children and young people in residential and other forms of care until they are 21.
- Will take steps to improve take-up of shared parental leave and help companies provide more flexible work environments that help mothers and fathers to share parenting. We want to help those who have been caring for a child or children for a number of years or supporting an elderly relative
- Will support more integrated working, including ensuring community pharmacies can play a stronger role to keep people healthy outside hospital within the wider health system.
- Will support NHS dentistry to improve coverage and reform contracts so that we pay for better outcomes, particularly for deprived children
- Will take focused action to provide the support needed by children and young people. Half of all mental health conditions become established in people before the age of fourteen
- Will ensure better access to care for children and young people
- Will reform Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services so that children with serious conditions are seen within an appropriate timeframe and no child has to leave their local area and their family to receive normal treatment
- Will demand all local authorities be commissioners of the highest-quality family support and child protection services, removing these responsibilities from the weakest councils and placing them in trust.
- Will ensure that councils provide consistency of care and cannot relocate vulnerable children far from their home when it is not in their best interests to do so. We will review support for Children in Need to understand why their outcomes are so poor and what more support they might require, in and out of school.
- Will examine the case for introducing a dedicated service for children and young people based on the Australian ‘headspace’ model and building on many excellent youth information, advice and counselling services
- Will invest nearly £7 billion extra in our children’s education – increasing school budgets and the Pupil Premium to protect against rising costs and pupil numbers, and introducing a fairer national funding formula
- Will invest in high-quality early years education, tripling the Early Years Pupil Premium to £1,000
- Will protect the Pupil Premium which targets extra help at disadvantaged children
- Will extending free childcare to all two-year-olds and to the children of working families from the end of paid parental leave, and encouraging new fathers to take time off with an additional month’s paid paternity leave
- Will take 13,000 children out of poverty by letting both parents earn before their Universal Credit is cut and also reverse cuts to the Family Element.