Engage: Austerity measures leave Children’s Services suffering own ‘Windrush moment’

Children’s services have suffered their own Windrush moment, according to a University of Huddersfield professor when he spoke to a committee of MPs.

Paul Bywaters, who is Professor of Social Work, believes that austerity measures and policies that place too much emphasis on seeking out children at risk rather than providing support to deprived families have combined to create a “vicious spiral”.

Speaking to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Work, Professor Bywaters (pictured) drew an analogy with the policies which brought about the Windrush scandal.

“Windrush was born out of policies which gave too much attention to finding illegal immigrants without considering sufficiently the knock-on effects of the policy on legal migrants,” he said.

“Equally, a policy over-concerned to identify children at risk may be insufficiently aware of the negative consequences for families whose need is primarily for a bit more support, who want to do their best by the children, but who feel accused by the state of abuse and neglect.”

Professor Bywaters is a member of the University of Huddersfield’s Centre for Applied Childhood, Youth and Family Research.  He is also part of a seven-university consortium carrying out a seven-year research project titled Identifying and Understanding Inequalities in Child Welfare Intervention Rates.  Its investigations cover the whole UK and have received funding of £557,705 from the Nuffield Foundation.

Findings from the project provided Professor Bywaters with data for his latest Westminster appearance and when he spoke to the All-Party Group on Social Work he argued that the combined impact of austerity on families’ circumstances and service provision is having significant consequences for children, particularly in more deprived areas.

For example, figures show that children in the most deprived 20 per cent of neighbourhoods were over eight times more likely to be either on a child protection order or be a looked after child than one in the least deprived 20 per cent.

It is also argued that since 2010 the effect of austerity has been to cause an unplanned shift in children’s services policy.  In 2010, roughly half of all expenditure was on family support and prevention, but now it is less than a third.  This reduction in preventive, support services for families has major implications for trust between parents and the state, and for the children involved, states Professor Bywaters in his briefing note for the All-Party Group.

“I am arguing that a decade of austerity has brought with it major difficulties for local authorities and for families.  Increasingly, the loss of prevention and family support services is creating a vicious spiral for families and services alike,” said Professor Bywaters.

“The burden of austerity has not fallen equally on local authorities, but more heavily on more deprived areas.  Similarly, the hollowing out of family support and prevention services has had the greatest negative impact on those families whose own resources are most stretched.

“The dominant policy focus on identifying children at risk underpins an approach more concerned to investigate families than to provide meaningful help to keep families together and results in a breakdown of trust between families and the state.”