There is “still much to do if we are to become a country that works for all children”, the President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) has said on the 30th anniversary of the landmark Children Act 1989.
The Local Government Association meanwhile called on the next government to invest in children’s services “so councils can fulfil the ambitions” of the Act.
Addressing delegates at the National Children and Adult Services Conference in Bournemouth, ADCS President Rachel Dickinson said: “The potent combination of austerity; rising demand; fewer resources and a government whose attention for almost four years has been largely focussed elsewhere, endangers the ambitious intentions of the Acts [the 1989 Act and the Children Act 2004].
“There is still much to do if we are to become a country that works for all children. In this context, the system leadership role of the DCS to ensure a relentless focus on the lived experiences of children and to speak loudly for change, has never been more important.”
At the Bournemouth conference the LGA set out the next stage of its Bright Future campaign which calls for children's services to be fully funded alongside investment in the wider breadth of services which provide children and families with the early support they need.
“This would ensure councils can deliver their legal duties, protect the preventative services which support families before they reach crisis point and improve the lives of children and families,” it argued.
The LGA has also called on the next government to set out its ambitions for children working across Whitehall, “recognising that all departments impact on the lives of children and families”.
The LGA highlighted new figures showing an unprecedented demand for support. It said:
- There had been an increase of 23,600 children classed as “in need” in the past decade, from 375,900 in March 2010 compared to 399,500 in March 2019.
- Councils had seen a 53% increase in children on child protection plans – an additional 18,160 children – in the past decade, while 88 children were now taken into care every day.
- There had been a 139% increase in serious cases where the local authority believes a child may be suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm. This is 117,070 extra cases, up to 201,170, since 2009.
The LGA said the council-run Troubled Families programme had seen success, with a 32% reduction of children going into care and fewer children have received custodial sentences and convictions.
Cllr Judith Blake, Chair of the Association’s Children and Young People Board, said: “The Children’s Act and the UNCRC [the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was also signed in 1989] were landmarks and we owe it to every child and young person to fulfil their visions.
“We want to see all children have the best possible chance of a bright future. For this to happen the next Government needs to make sure children and young people are not forgotten by putting them at the centre of all decision-making.”
Cllr Blake added: “Most families will go through tough patches at some point, and often the right support provided at the right time will be enough to get families back on their feet and able to thrive.
“Councils have seen significant increases in demand for children’s social care and need long-term, sustainable funding so they can deliver the best for our children and families.”