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LGA responds to National Audit Office report on children in need of help or protection

Cllr Richard Watts, Chair of the LGA's Children and Young People Boards, responds to the National Audit Office report "Children in need of help or protection".

"Looking after children and keeping them safe is one of the most important jobs that a council does, and local authorities have been working hard to deal with the significant increase in demand for child protection services in recent years. Local authority children's services teams in England handled more than two million initial contacts in 2013/14, up 65 per cent from 1.2 million in 2007. The number of children on child protection plans has increased by more than 60 per cent during the same period. But local authorities have faced significant funding cuts over this same period, and with such a big rise in demand for services, it's vital that local authorities have the resources they need to keep children and young people safe.

"In 2008, 78 per cent of children's services were rated good or outstanding by Ofsted. It is notable that this figure has now dropped below 25 per cent, over a period in which child protection reform and improvement has been largely removed from local government and increasingly centralised within Whitehall instead. It's vital to examine how DfE initiatives imposed on local authorities, such as children's services trusts, are evaluated to check whether they are doing a better job of looking after vulnerable children, and use that evidence to develop future initiatives in partnership with councils.

"One of Ofsted's key purposes is to help providers to improve, yet research commissioned by the LGA last year found that an ‘inadequate' rating by Ofsted actually created an incredibly difficult environment in which to make improvements, with resignations by both councillors and officers, vilification in the media, and an uphill battle to recruit new social workers thanks to the reputational damage caused. We would like to see Ofsted playing a far more active role in supporting improvement, including an inspection framework that recognises something as complex as children's services cannot be reduced to a one-word rating.

"With regard to school results, research has shown that the stability provided by carers helps children spending extended periods of time in care achieve consistently better results than children in need who remain outside the care system. To compare children in need and in care with all children discounts the trauma, disrupted education and lack of support that these children may have experienced.

"Finally, it should be noted that thanks to reports from all corners of the community and the hard work of social workers, the police and others, the number of children dying due to homicide or assault has fallen by 69 per cent in England since 1985 and remains in long-term decline. We can never be complacent when it comes to the safety of children and young people, but we must take care that in our rush to improve, we don't lose sight of the unreported excellence of social workers across the country, whose tough decisions and swift actions are saving children's lives every day."

View report: https://www.nao.org.uk/report/children-in-need-of-help-or-protection/

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