New charity research has unearthed a worrying number of children who are “falling through the cracks” in the social care system, leaving them vulnerable to abuse or neglect.
Action For Children’s report was based on evidence from Freedom of Information requests to 152 councils, and their research found that there is a dramatic difference between the amount of children in need, and those being referred for statutory support. This suggests that children in need who are being assessed by social workers are not being considered high-risk enough to meet the threshold for referral.
In situations where a family or child does not meet the referral threshold for access to statutory services, they should instead be referred to alternative support services, such as children’s centres – many of which are operated by Action For Children nationwide. However, the research found that only 1 in 4 children went on to be referred for alternative support. Of the 184,500 children’s needs assessments that were closed in 2015-16 as requiring “no further action”, this means that an estimated 140,000 children were left without support.
This figure should be a particular concern for local authorities, who have been cutting funding for support services including children’s centres on a drastic level in recent years. Denying children the early help they need first time round increases their chance of being re-referred to social services later on. This was proven by an Ofsted study in 2015.
The charity considers this the “revolving door” effect – whereby children are being continually assessed and denied referral, yet only receiving help when their situation reaches crisis-level.
Action For Children is calling on the government to deliver adequate funding to statutory and early help services, to provide children at risk with help as soon as they need it.