To improve the outcomes of vulnerable children while building a sustainable long term child support system, public services consultancy Impower argues for prevention over intake. With an ever increasing demand and decreasing local government resources, the need to become innovative on child services is fast approaching. By focusing on reducing the need for interventions, and creating supportive family environments, both the children and wider society will benefit from improved focus on prevention.
In a recent report from Impower, titled ‘Breaking the Lock: A new preventative model to improve the lives of vulnerable children and make families stronger’, the effectiveness and direction of UK councils’ approaches to dealing with the care for vulnerable children are considered. The report makes clear that a focus on prevention over care is not only better in terms of the social outcomes for individuals but also make greater sense on the finances of a public sector that continues to be under pressure from budgetary reductions.
While the report notes that state care for children suffering long term neglect has considerable positive potential, entry into state care also comes with considerable risks. Children that have been in care make up less than 1% of the UK population, yet one in four of the adult prison population has been in care. There is also considerable correlation between homelessness and the care system, with a third of homeless people having been in care.
Children services demand
Recent years have seen a considerable increase in the number of people entering care. The total number of children in the system is up 7% since 2010, with re-referrals into children’s services up from 147,000 in 2013 to 154,000 in 2014. Further, the length of episodes is also trending upwards, with almost 20% of cases needing a year or more of service.
The report places an estimate of £350 million on the increase of costs incurred from the new levels of demand. However, a further problem is presenting itself to councils, which is a lack of access to the skills required to provide the services adequately. Around 14% of social worker posts are currently unfilled, which is requiring the deployment of agency staffing and costs up to a further £150 million nationally.
The prevention model
To tackle both the risked negative effects of being taken into care on the long term outcomes of children, as well as the burden on social costs, the consulting firm considers moving to a model that focuses on prevention. Conservative estimates on the difference between prevention and care – in terms of costs – are in the range of every pound spent on prevention could save two pounds on more complex interventions. The idea is to deal with the issues in the community or family unit that are creating the environments toxic to healthy child development. This model lays a greater focus of resources and effort into ‘Universal & Universal Plus Early Help’, as well as (targeted) ‘Early Help’, hereby reducing the need for later care.
The authors explain: “A preventative approach needs, at the earliest stage, the identification of families that require support and children that might be at risk, clear responsibilities and accountabilities for the respective public agencies, and specific expectations for how all agencies should interact at an early stage to prevent children coming into care.”