Child Social Care ‘Facing Cuts’

Social work services helping Scotland’s most vulnerable children are facing their first real budget cuts since devolution, it has been claimed. The body representing the country’s most senior social workers said they could no longer meet politicians’ demands to improve care for young people because of persistent underfunding and an exploding caseload.

The Association of Directors of Social Work said its members were facing the same crisis to hit the children’s hearing system where referrals were going “through the roof”. It said Professor Arthur Midwinter, a respected academic, had produced evidence to show Scottish Executive funding for council children’s social work services, despite substantial rises from 2000 onwards, had fallen behind inflation this year.

Bernadette Docherty, the association’s spokeswoman on family and children’s issues, said: “We are quite unable to meet the demands placed on us by politicians and the public in the absence of adequate resources to do so.”

The association says its caseload has soared in recent years, like that of the Scottish Children’s Reporter Association.

Since 2000, the former has seen an annual increase of:
– 12,858 more referrals to the children’s hearing system.
– 17,591 more reports requested by the children’s hearing system.
– 1931 extra child protection inquiries.
– 876 more children looked after, supported and monitored by social workers at home.
– 1500 more children cared for away from home.
– 1312 more foster care placements.

Senior social workers welcome the executive’s focus on child protection, but said they were insufficiently funded. Professor Midwinter, in work for Aberdeen City Council published earlier this year, said councils were underfunded to the tune of £135m a year. It is not just the rise in referrals that is to blame but a rise in costs. For example, it now costs twice as much to foster a child than it did just five years ago.

The association has hired Professor Midwinter, who is based at Strathclyde University, to carry out a new investigation into the funding of children’s services. It intends to reveal actual figures later this year, but says his work already points to cuts.

Ms Docherty, who is also the association’s vice-president, said: “The preliminary work done by Professor Midwinter reveals that there has been a cut in real terms in the children’s social work services budget for the first time since devolution.

“His initial findings indicate that there has been persistent under-funding of these services. These services have only been able to respond to the demands placed upon them by taking money from other vulnerable service groups, particularly older people’s services.”

The executive has said it would not comment on any of Professor Midwinter’s findings until his final figures are published. But a spokeswoman stressed spending had risen dramatically since devolution, and ministers were today expected to announce another package of £15m for a review of social work, Changing Lives.