'A dismal, unfair and unsafe situation': RCPCH responds to National Children’s Bureau Report

Dr Alison Steele responds to the National Children’s Bureau (NCB) new report, published today on behalf of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children: Storing Up Trouble – A postcode lottery of children’s social care.

Following a ten-month inquiry, the Storing up Trouble - A Postcode Lottery of Children's Social Care report presents evidence that social care for children has become inconsistent, with considerable local variations in the thresholds at which support is given. They say this is undermining the welfare and safety of children, young people and families.

Key findings include:

  • There is compelling evidence that children face a postcode lottery of protection from children’s social care and issues such as self-harm, bullying and domestic violence are treated differently from one area to another.
  • It is getting harder for children and families to get support - 70% of the 1,710 social workers surveyed for this inquiry said the threshold for helping ‘children in need’ had risen in the last three years, while half said the point at which a child protection plan was triggered had gone up.
  • More than 80% of Directors of Children’s Services, surveyed as part of the inquiry, said that there were variations in thresholds for accessing early help.
  • Almost three quarters reported variable thresholds for ‘children in need’ support, and almost two thirds said there was variation in thresholds for making a child subject to a child protection plan.
  • As social workers seek to protect children from harm, they are often unable to support families with their immediate and most pressing needs: heating, housing, and food.
  • With limited resources and high caseloads, social workers are unable to help families address the root causes of family issues and are too often forced to view families of risk. This leads to a damaging culture of mistrust between families and practitioners which needs to be addressed.

Responding to the Storing Up Trouble – A postcode lottery of children’s social care report, Dr Alison Steele, Child Protection Officer for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), said:

"This report shines a light on what can only be described as a dismal, unfair and unsafe situation for children.

"It is completely unacceptable that a child’s postcode determines the level of support they receive and how soon they receive it. We feel that the National Children’s Bureau (NCB) are correct and lack of resources are influencing decisions about whether to offer support to vulnerable children. The Government must ensure funding arrangements are put in place in the short and long term in order to support all children who need help, as early as possible.

"As this report also highlights, poverty is often the root of the problem, with families struggling to feed, shelter and keep their children warm. As paediatricians, this is something we see on a regular basis which is detrimental to children’s health and wellbeing. It urgently needs to be addressed.  A reduction in public health budgets has reduced support for families living in poverty and is preventing them from receiving important help. Health visitors play a crucial role in identifying families who are struggling with poor mental health, breastfeeding, smoking cessation and nutrition. Amongst other things, health visitors also monitor child development and provide information and advice on support services for families most in need. Without investment in early help and preventative services, we are going to see more children entering the child protection system and a dismal situation could turn into a dire one."