Directorate spread sheets of cuts and savings and very little by way of narrative to explain this huge amount of money.
These figures are to be based on efficiency savings ‘associated with reductions in numbers of children in care and therefore public care costs by offering community-based alternatives over the admission of children to public care and actively progressing the care of some children so that they return to the care of their family or a substitute family without the involvement of the Local
They are also to be associated with reductions and cuts to Looked after Children’s services. This strategy is the centrepiece of the CYP budget for next year’s budget and for the following three years. So how are we to make sense of this?
There are around 1,900 ‘Looked after children’ in Birmingham (children in care), and from the Council’s perspective they are a costly group with poor outcomes relative to the other young people. The cost of foster and residential placements, contact arrangements and social work time are expensive.
According to the Social Research Unit (SRU) based at Dartington ‘The cost of looking after children presents a major challenge to the resources of most authorities in a very demanding economic climate.’ (2)
So in these times of austerity why not reduce the number of looked after children and their cost to the Council budget by intervening early and keeping young people within their own families?
No one can question this long lauded policy aim of keeping children out of the care system if they can safely remain within the care of their own or extended family. What we do need to question is the practicality of implementing this policy in the context of massive cuts and possible unintended consequences.
Going back to the budget strategy how is it proposed that this will be achieved:
In view of the high levels of benefit from targeted and preventative work we propose to shift the profile of spend over the next three years as follows:
• from 43% on acute services to 30%
• from 46% on targeted support to 69% (this includes those children and young people who are in need of protection and disabled children)
• from 12% to 1% to undertake our role for the general population of children and young people, ensuring they are included and have maximum life chances by supporting, monitoring and influencing partner agencies.’ (3)
This strategy is based on significant cuts and diversion of resources from what were previously universal services that were open to all children and families and as well as services for looked after children including Children’s Residential Care and Contact services.
There are fundamental objections and questions to be posed about this strategy to the Labour Group and which require their answers:
1. Where’s the evidence?
There is no evidence base to support such a massive alignment of spend within a Local Authority children’s social care budget over such a short time period. Neighbouring Sandwell is currently piloting a Redirect to Reinvest pilot with the Dartington SRU ‘that aims to safely reduce the
size of the care population’. The operative phrase is ‘to safely reduce’.
2. Are the timescales realistic?
The timescale and transition period required for reinvesting and establishing new targeted and early intervention services while simultaneously cutting other services is utterly unrealistic. These are
complex service changes.
3. Where is the impact assessment and identified risks?
There is no impact assessment of the risks of this strategy within the ‘Budget for Birmingham 2013+ unlike other cuts and savings proposals.
4. Does the Senior Management Team have the ability and capacity to implement this strategy?
The context of these proposals is of a Local Authority whose safeguarding services have been in a state of crisis over several years and which is the under scrutiny of Central Government. The ability and capacity of the Senior Management Team to implement such complex service changes is reasonably open to question. This realignment of spending will destabilise the care of young people presently looked after by the Authority.
5. How will young people be diverted from care?
How will young people be diverted from the edge of care? Where is the evidence of a range of proven interventions that are to be deployed to keep children safely within the care of their families? How long will it take to setup and establish effective interventions?
6. How many young people are projected to be diverted from the edge of care over the next four years?
There is no modelling of the supposed efficiency savings and the claim to be able to ‘save’ nearly £10 m by 2015-16. Show us the figures!
7. Which other cuts to existing children’s social care services are based on the presumed success of this reduction in the number of looked after children?
This question is important as it poses the problem of what will happen to existing services and the young people using them if projected reduction in looked after children is not achieved.
8. Does the Track record of Brighter future transformation programme offer support to this proposed strategy?
Brighter futures transformation programme which ran from 2008-11, and was funded with new money, had the same objective of shifting balance of resources towards prevention but left a problematic legacy.
According to the SRU:
in the end, not all of the Brighter Futures bets paid off. There were positive results from some but not from others.
Most of the people who established the strategy have since left, and the city has struggled with the consequences of a child abuse scandal and the same economic cuts that have handicapped every local authority.
The difficulties of realising the benefits from the prevention programmes that worked were not totally overcome. (5)
We predict that for this strategy to succeed there needs to be a significant new upfront investment, it cannot hope to succeed in the context of massive year on year cuts. It requires a longer term timescale and a period of organisational stability. The risks are massive and have the potential to destabilise an already fragile organisation.
In the event of failure the ultimate losers will be the thousands of vulnerable young people who need the support and intervention of Birmingham Social Care.
An activist from West Midlands Social Work Action Network
(1) p 174 Budget for Birmingham 2013+
(2) p 22 Michael Little and Sonia Sodha. Prevention and early intervention in Children’s services. (2012) Social Research Unit at Dartington
(3) p 115 Budget for Birmingham 2013+
(4) p 22 Little and Sodha
(5) p 19 Little and Sodha