The risk of a Baby P type tragedy is being increased by the Government’s failure to fund children’s services, a meeting has heard.
The chilling remark was made at the full meeting of Redcar and Cleveland Council on Thursday.
As previously reported, Redcar and Cleveland Council faces a predicted budget overspend of £4.2m – £3.5m on children’s services – at the end of the financial year.
Cllr Craig Hannaway, the cabinet member for children’s services, education and skills, pulled no punches as he presented his report on Looked After Children and Child Sexual Exploitation.
“We are faced with a situation where we can no longer fund, as a council, the preventative work that we used to,” he said.
He continued: “It must be acknowledged that the facts working against us in children’s social care are stark.
“The Children’s Commissioner recently reported there were 2m children, one in six growing up in vulnerable families where there are serious risks in England – 1.6m of them receiving no known support or help from the system.
“She writes, ‘the economic and social costs are unsustainable’.
“There are far more influential people than me who are saying that we are risking, in this country, the kind of tragedy that we’ve seen in the past with Baby P, with Ellie Butler, with Daniel Pelka or with the grooming scandals in Oxford, in Rochdale and Rotherham.
“I agree with the Conservative MP Tim Loughton, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Children, who wrote ‘it is unconscionable we are putting children’s safety at risk by allowing families to fall into crisis before we step in to help’.”
Cllr Anne Watts, independent councillor for Westworth, questioned the Labour Cabinet member’s record on managing the budget.
Addressing Cllr Hannaway, she said: “Being over £3.5m in deficit, when you set your budget in April, and it was only September when this was announced, is certainly nothing to celebrate.”
She added: “I did ask you, over 12 months ago, that it appeared then that the cost of spending was going up and up and up within your department, and I asked if, in each of your reports, you had put some indication of money savings that had been achieved.
“For someone to be so much in debt in such a small period, I think we’re owed an explanation.”
Cllr Hannaway responded: “If we had all the looked after children lined up here, which one would you like to point at and say we’ve spent too much money on?”
The chamber was filled with silence before Cllr Hannaway continued some seconds later:
“Would you like to choose some?”.
“You don’t seem to want to acknowledge the fact that this is a national crisis.
“We have the National Children’s Bureau which produced a report saying ‘no good options – the children’s social care system is struggling to meet demand, resources being directed towards children who have already suffered abuse and awaiting early intervention.
“Local authorities are struggling to meet demand – it is a national crisis, it’s not something I’ve made up.
“The cost of placements has gone up from £6m to £11m, so which one should we not spend the money on? We have a statutory duty to these children.”
The Local Government Association (LGA) has predicted a national budget gap in children’s services of £2bn by 2020.
Cllr Hannaway said: “Along with the National Children’s Bureau, the Children’s Commissioner, Bernardo’s, the NSPCC, and all the other bodies I’ve listed in the report, I call on the Government to take immediate action in the next spending review to support our most vulnerable children.”