What happens to children who are referred for help, but don’t meet the threshold for support? When things are bad, but not quite bad enough?
A lot of work has gone into encouraging people to contact children’s services when they are worried about a child, and it's good news that professionals and the general public recognise the early signs of neglect and take action.
Government guidance outlines the ‘referral’ process for how children who need support should be assessed by social care so that they can be given the help they need. This is important as it means that children who are at risk get help.
But what about those children where someone was worried enough that they made their concern formal (i.e. made a referral) but things were not at crisis point?
For example, a teacher makes a referral because they are worried about a child that comes to school tired, with poor hygiene and exhibiting signs of neglect. A social worker looks into the referral and undertakes an assessment. They find that although there are parenting concerns, the child does not meet the threshold for support so their case is closed.
What happens to this child next? Will they continue to come to school tired and unclean? Will their situation deteriorate to the point where they are referred again?
We found that over 180,000 children were referred to social services who did not meet the threshold for support. Many of these children are likely to be living in challenging family situations, with childhoods overshadowed by issues like domestic violence or substance misuse, placing them at risk of neglect.
And while 1 in 4 four were referred to services to help them deal with these problems, 3 in 4 received no such signposting.
This is worrying. We’re concerned that opportunities are being missed to help these children and their families address problems early.
Take the child above. In this situation, the family would benefit from support to help them address problems going on at home before they get worse.
We know from our work that with the right help, families can make positive changes, and that sadly, when this support is not available, things can sometimes get much worse.
If such opportunities are missed, children can be stuck in a revolving door into social care; in a cycle of referral and assessment but only receiving help at crisis point.
Years of austerity and budget cuts mean that often essential support services to tackle problems early are no longer available.
Action for Children’s ambition is that every child who needs help, gets help. We are calling on the Government to take urgent action: to strengthen the statutory framework for early help services and provide adequate funding to local authorities so they can provide help as soon as children need it.
This is what is best for children, best for families, and best for local authorities who are then able to help families address the root cause of problems, not just fight fires.