Revolving door - the children overlooked by referrals

Tuesday 08 August 2017
Young boy crossing arms

Vulnerable children are being overlooked in a cycle of referrals

We are concerned that opportunities to intervene early are being missed. Some children are stuck in a revolving door into social care, in a cycle of referral and assessment, but only receiving help at crisis point.

Vital family support services for problems like domestic abuse provide help that can stop problems spiralling out of control, and prevent the need for statutory services later on. However, years of austerity and budget cuts mean that often, these essential support services are no longer available.

We examined whether children who are vulnerable but don’t meet the criteria for statutory support, were directed to early help services that could help them and their families.

Read our initial report
Read our latest report

Part 1: What did we find?

In 2015-16, there were 184,500 children referred to children’s social care whose cases were closed as ‘no further action’ after assessment.

Only one in four children were referred to early help services such as children’s centres or domestic abuse programmes

This leaves an estimated 140,000 children on the fringes of social care without support.

Part 2: Who are these children?

  • Our new research shows that over a two year period, 120,000 children were referred to social services repeatedly, by police, teachers, and health professionals. (from 2013/14 to 2014/15.)
  • As many as 36,000 of these children had to be referred to social services a number of times before there was any statutory intervention to help them with serious issues like abuse and neglect, and family dysfunction.
  • 13,500 children had absolutely no statutory support from social services in either year.

Why this matters

Although these children do not reach statutory thresholds, they are still vulnerable.

We found that common needs are domestic abuse, neglect, physical abuse, parental mental health and substance misuse.

Not only can living with these problems make a child’s life miserable, but even at a low level, neglect can affect all aspects of children’s development and the relationships they make throughout their lives.

Ongoing budget cuts have made it increasingly difficult for local authorities to provide early help services, especially in a context of increasing need in families.

When it is time to make tough decisions about a shrinking budget, it can be difficult to prioritise early help support.

The impact of this is clear: children’s centres have shut at a rate of around six per month since January 2010.

What needs to happen?

We are calling on the Government to provide adequate funding to local authorities so they can provide help as soon as children need it and to review early help services nationally to see what is working well and what is not.

Read part 1
Read part 2