Government efforts to reform children’s social care branded ‘painfully slow’

Vulnerable children deserve better than the “painfully slow” progress the Government has made reforming children’s social care, an influential committee of MPs has said.

A new report from the Public Accounts Committee called on the Department for Education to set a percentage target of how many local authority children’s social care services will be rated “good” or outstanding” by 2022.

It warned the sector was not financially sustainable, with nine in 10 local authorities exceeding their children’s services budgets in 2017-18.

The report, published on Friday, sets out a series of recommendations for the Department for Education to improve the quality and cost-effectiveness of the sector.

The committee said it was “disappointed” that the DfE had not set out what sustainable improvement it seeks to achieve for children.

Committee chair Meg Hillier (pictured) said “woolly ambitions” were not enough to drive lasting change and called on the Government to drive cross-departmental work to meet the needs of vulnerable children.

She added: “Government’s progress with reforming children’s services has been painfully slow and it has still not made clear what sustainable improvements it hopes to achieve.

“Children, many of them in desperate circumstances, deserve better.

“The Department for Education regards children’s social care as its most important responsibility.

“If it is to live up to that responsibility, it must first address what are persistent shortcomings in its understanding of the sector.”

The report recommends that the DfE should set out data on the cost and quality of children’s social care for each English council by the end of the year.

It should also set out the factors leading to variation of cost and quality across local authorities, what action it is taking to combat this, and its targets for reducing variation.

The committee also calls on the DfE to develop a cross-departmental strategy for raising the quality in children’s services, with a cross-Government approach agreed by December.

It also told the Department to set out the quality of children’s social care it is seeking to achieve by 2022 and how it will measure this.

Shadow communities secretary Andrew Gwynne said that a Labour government would provide local authorities with sustainable funding.

He added: “This report confirms our worst fears that this Government is doing almost nothing to deal with the growing crisis in children’s services.

“Demand for services is rising, but the Tories have cut funding for children’s departments by 29% since 2010.

“They’ve pushed the people giving support to vulnerable children to breaking point.”

The DfE said it was investing £84 million over the next five years to support up to 20 local authorities with high or rising demand to work more effectively with their most vulnerable families.

Children and Families Minister Nadhim Zahawi said the number of children’s services rated “outstanding” was rising and the number rated as “inadequate” had fallen by a third since 2017.

She added: “We know there are financial pressures in the system and in the last year we have given local authorities an extra £410 million for adult and children’s social care.

“We will continue to work with sector better understand what is driving demand and how we can work together to respond to those challenges.”

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