RESEARCH by a University of Huddersfield professor has uncovered huge reductions in expenditure on services designed to prevent child neglect and abuse, with the deepest cuts being made in deprived areas that are in the greatest need.
Professor Paul Bywaters will now present his findings to a Parliamentary committee and in a new article. He also calls for a major change in the way that children’s services departments collect information, arguing that they should pay full attention to the socio-economic conditions of families.
“It is a big problem that no data is collected about the circumstances of the parents of children in contact with children’s’ services. So we don’t know how many parents of children in the system are single parents or how many are unemployed. We don’t know how old they are, what kind of housing they live in, their income or their levels of debt.
“I think it is extraordinary that we run a £10 billion children’s service and we know nothing systematically about the parents,” said Professor Bywaters, who has recently joined the University of Huddersfield’s Centre for Applied Childhood, Youth and Family Research.
He is co-author of a new article titled Austerity, rationing and inequity: trends in children’s and young peoples’ services expenditure in England between 2010 and 2015, which appears in Local Government Studies. On Wednesday 7 February, with his co-author Calum Webb, of the University of Sheffield, Professor Bywaters gives evidence to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Children.
He will tell the MPs and peers who belong to the committee how his researches – funded by the Nuffield Foundation – have uncovered profound inequalities in children’s chances of being involved with child protection services, and that those unequal chances relate closely to deprivation and ethnicity.
He will also call for children’s services to pay full attention to the circumstances of families, and present his findings on expenditure cuts, which local authorities have been forced to make because of reductions in funding from central government.
“The combination of cuts plus rising demand from families is having a major impact on services, so overall there has been a cut in spend-per-child since 2010 of 16% and the most deprived local authorities have taken a larger hit,” says Professor Bywaters.
“So the most deprived 20 per cent of authorities have cut their spending on children’s services by a quarter, whereas the least deprived 20 per cent have cut only by four or five per cent”.
Research for the article in Local Government Studies found that expenditure on child protection and safeguarding has either increased or remained stable. But the axe has fallen on preventative family support and on early interventions such as Sure Start children’s centres.
This reflects a “fiscal policy shift away from family support and towards a focus on child protection and permanent alternative placements, including adoption, for children away from birth parents,” state the authors.
They have also found evidence to support claims of an “unintentional, systemic bias against fully addressing the needs of deprived neighbourhoods in service planning and resource allocation”.
A key message from Professor Bywaters is that reductions in inequality will also reduce the chances of children being abused and neglected and he wants social workers to engage more with the economic context of family life.
He welcomed the chance to state his case to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Children.
“There has been a strong theme from some politicians – and from some leaders in the profession – to say that poverty isn’t a key issue in child abuse and that local authority expenditure isn’t a factor in the quality of services. We think both of those things are untrue and so will take any opportunity to present our evidence.”