It is possible that there will be “huge spikes in demand across the children’s social care spectrum”, a backlog of new care applications and more children needing to come into care as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, the President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services for 2020/21 has warned.
In a written inaugural address, Jenny Coles, Director of Children’s Services at Hertfordshire County Council, suggested that there could also be increased incidences of children living with one or more of the ‘trigger trio’, parental substance misuse, domestic abuse and parental mental ill-health.
This could result in “even greater burdens on child and adolescent mental health services” which were “almost at breaking point” before Covid-19, she said.
“Local authorities and their partners will be grappling with these things and more as we continue our work around recovery.”
Coles said at the top of the Association’s policy priorities for the coming year would be maintaining “visibility on the need to level up…society to make it more inclusive” so that children and young people, particularly the most vulnerable, feel a greater sense of belonging at home, in school and in their community.
She paid tribute to local government staff, public services and local politicians “for their amazing work” and acknowledged that there are “even greater expectations of local government” than usual because of the outbreak.
Coles warned that the pandemic would likely “plunge even more children and their families into poverty” as many more families experience the “wholly inadequate provisions of the welfare state.”
Keeping “poverty high on everyone’s agenda” will be a continuing priority for ADCS in the coming year, she said.
The new President meanwhile said she was “more determined than ever” to work closely with DfE, other government departments and with providers to achieve a national sufficiency strategy of placements for children in care.
“I include in this the imperative of resolving our national and long-standing shortage of tier 4 placements for our most complex children and young people…This is not solely about providing a decent, safe placement in which to live, it’s about understanding wider support needs too – staying connected with family and friends, emotional support, physical and mental health support, an educational placement that encourages a sense of belonging,” she said.
“If the state is going to take a child or young person into care, we have a collective responsibility to try to meet a child’s needs holistically…Similarly, I am determined to ensure that a national placement sufficiency strategy considers carefully the accommodation and support needs of care leavers.”
Coles also said that it would be important for the Care Review to have a sharply focussed, clear aim of improving outcomes for children in care and care leavers. “The aim of the review cannot be clouded by any sense of seeking to reduce the number of children in care per se; the trick is to make sure we have the right children in care, at the right time, in the right placement with the right support.”
She added that necessarily this would involve a careful look at the host of issues associated with ‘placements at distance’. “In recent times we have seen an increased use of placements at distance, indeed we’ve seen increased use of unregulated and unregistered provision. To state the obvious if I may, both phenomena are driven by a lack of placement sufficiency in localities.”
Coles said she wanted to say again that semi-independent accommodation usually used by and for care leavers may be unregulated by Ofsted, but it was “not the wild west where children are abandoned to their fate”.
These placements were locally monitored, she noted. “There is some poor practice that we absolutely don’t want to see, but unless the state accepts that it (not just local authorities) has a role to play in ensuring placement sufficiency across the country then local authorities will continue to be stuck between a rock and a hard place.”
The new President welcomed announcements of extra funding for children (and adult) social care but said “this is not yet job done for children’s services…We must work towards a sustainable long term funding settlement for children’s services.”
Before the pandemic, she claimed, children’s services were “woefully under-funded and stretched to the limit. The current crisis is significantly exacerbating that inadequate baseline of funding. The resources needed during the nation’s recovery from the pandemic will be eye-wateringly large.
“I’m sure that the government will invest in its citizens’ futures. I want to see unprecedented levels of investment in our children’s futures.”