As Assembly Members return from their summer recess ready to scrutinise the Welsh Government’s Draft Budget for the next fiscal year, a stark warning has been made to them by local government social care professionals, in a bid to highlight the immense and on-going pressures that exists in Children’s Services right across Wales.
The Association of Directors of Social Service in Wales (ADSS Cymru) and the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) have published a joint-position statement on the condition of Children’s Services within Welsh local authorities, showing that the sector is at ‘breaking point’ and is struggling to cope with the challenges of increased demand and complexity of cases being presented to councils daily.
The statement asserts that nearly 16,000 children received care and support from local authorities in Wales last year (2017-18), with just under 6,000 children being ‘looked after’ by local authorities, a figure that has increased by nearly a quarter over 10 years. It goes on to say that while over the same period, councils’ expenditure on Children’s Services has increased to meet the increasing demand, with a real term increase of 30% spend on Looked After Children’s Services, local authorities core grant funding has reducing by 22% after inflation.
As Councils have a statutory duty to safeguard and promote the well-being of looked after children, the increasing financial commitment means it leaves elected members not only with very little money to invest in early intervention services but it also means that there are challenging choices to be taken elsewhere, particularly with non-statutory services like economic development, youth services, leisure and tourism; a situation which the two organisations believe is simply unsustainable.
They are appealing to AMs to back their call to close the current funding gap that exists in social care budgets and put pressure on the Welsh Government to invest more money into Children’s Services right across Wales.
Commenting, Cllr Huw David, WLGA’s Spokesperson for Health and Social Care, said:
“Looked after children rates in Wales have increased by 15% since 2010, during which time councils’ real funding has reduced by 22%. Whilst local government has and always provide as much resource and protection as possible to deliver vital services to safeguard and support children and their families, in the face of continuing cuts and increasing demand we will struggle to do so in the future.
“The challenges are not unique to Wales, with record numbers of children taken into care being seen all across the UK, but it all points to the need to take a preventative approach to improving children’s outcomes.
“As Welsh Government consider their plans for next year’s budget it is vital that real additional funding is provided to local government to meet the growing funding gap being seen across councils and within social care, otherwise our vital services will continue to be at considerable risk and will not be sustainable in the longer term.
“This position statement highlights the record pressures and huge challenges affecting our Children’s Services and sets out the key areas where increased funding is essential to ensure that we can do our very best for the most vulnerable children in society.”
The WLGA and ADSS Cymru are also asking AMs to use new consequential funding earmarked for Wales to be ring-fenced, so that a new Preventative Care Fund for Wales can be established.
They believe such a fund would enable new investment to take place in valuable preventative services, which would start to take the strain of some of the day-to-day services in the current system and allow any realised savings to be reinvested back into the system.
Sally Jenkins, who is the Chair of ADSS Cymru’s All Wales Heads of Children’s Services, added:
“Social services across Wales have a proud record of providing care and help to the most vulnerable children in our society, and we need to see the commitment of the Welsh Government in the next budget to sustaining these services.
“Those children who become looked after are the tragic product of a range of economic, family and community factors that all too often result in children becoming at risk of harm.
“Social services cannot deal with this on its own. As the Assembly and our government head towards their 20th anniversary, I want them to commit to better resources and tackling the root causes, to intervene earlier and to provide better outcomes for those we need to support.”