Is early intervention a pipe dream?

Posted by Meg Munn MP / Wednesday 11 December 2013 / Early intervention Children's centres The Red Book

Guest post from Meg Munn MP, Chair of the Child Protection All-Party Parliamentary Group

The idea of early intervention to help improve the lives of children has not surprisingly gained support across the political spectrum. To some this means accessible universal provision such as local SureStart children’s centres. For others the ability of families to obtain professional support if they experience significant problems, such as poor parenting, drug or alcohol problems or financial stress.

At the moment the numbers of families without help are growing. Local authorities strapped for cash are closing or reducing SureStart services, and hard pressed social workers find they lack the capacity to help until the problems have reached a much more serious level.

This shift in the threshold for help was recently identified by the online social work journal Community Care. They interviewed 600 child protection social workers and for three quarters of them the situation was even worse. They don’t have the time or resources to prevent vulnerable children from coming to serious harm, and in some local authorities child protection effectively ends at the age of 14.

The job of social workers is complex - judging whether to remove a child or provide resources to keep them at home is never easy. Worrying at night about the children on your caseload becomes part of a social worker’s life. The period when I experienced such an overwhelming caseload was mercifully short. We should not place anyone in that position.

But this is what has happened up and down the country. My local authority, Sheffield, managed to keep cuts to children’s social work to 5% last year. Given that further cuts are coming over the next two years it is inevitable that the service will be adversely affected.

Everyone understands that money spent on prevention and early intervention protects children and reduces the need for resources in the future. But the social work manager is faced with fewer professionals to support that early intervention and has no choice but to use existing staff to deal with those suffering from physical and sexual abuse and severe neglect. Children and families who need early support to prevent future harm are not going to receive it.

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