Did you know the number of children in care in Oxfordshire has risen by 80 per cent?
Did you know that the number of children in care in Oxfordshire has risen by around 80 per cent since 2011 and that the county council’s budget for children’s social care has risen by £31m over the same period?
Today is Children in Need and Monday is World Day for the Prevention of Child Abuse - and as usual it’ll be a busy one for the county council’s children’s social care teams throughout Oxfordshire, who have more work on their books than at any time in the council’s history. There are currently more than 760 children in care compared to 425 in 2011.
Lucy Butler, the Director for Children’s Services at the council, said: “Other parts of the country have also experienced steep rises in the number of children in care – but it has happened at the same time as the well documented reductions in funding for local government, and that has created real financial dilemmas for us and fellow councils who provide social care.
“However what this situation has not and never will do is get in the way of us providing care to those who need it. The money is a concern – but it is always a secondary concern to providing care to children who need it. It is our legal and moral duty to provide the right care.
“We are clearly currently going through a time when the number of children needing to come in to care, nationally and locally, has risen. We have to deal with that and we do so by providing the care and worrying about the maths subsequently.
Giving every child a good start in life
Lucy continued: “Children’s social care in Oxfordshire has been rated “Good” by Ofsted following inspections three times in succession. That is a rating that Ofsted does not give lightly. We are good at what we do.
“The county council’s aim is to help people live safe and healthy lives and give every child a good start in life – protecting them from abuse and neglect. Our service is not one that the vast majority of the population comes in to contact with in the same way that it might with other county council services such as highways or libraries – but clearly our work is crucial and often emotive and distressing. Equally it can be one of the most rewarding things – to see a child flourish and thrive and families come through difficult times.
“Councillors here and elsewhere are ‘corporate parents’ – they and the council are legally the parents of children in care. Anybody would tell you that being in the role of a parent is a massive responsibility.
“Apart from the children in our care we also retain links and responsibilities to care leavers in just the same way that a parent would with someone over the age of 18 but still maturing in to adulthood.
“Despite the financial backdrop, the council has consistently backed these aims and responsibilities up with the finances to support children in care. In 2011, the children’s social care budget at Oxfordshire County Council was £46.4m - this year in 2018/19 it is £77.9m.”
Why are more children coming in to care?
Earlier in November the Local Government Association released figures showing more than 1,000 children a day are being referred to social services, with 382,180 referrals made in 2017/18. Half of referrals were because of child neglect, while a sixth were because of family breakdown and 8.7 per cent because of disability and illness.
Richard Simpson is Chairman of the Oxfordshire Safeguarding Children’s Board and an Assistant Director for Barnado’s with operational and strategic responsibility for services in Cumbria. He said: “The situation that has been seen in Oxfordshire over the past decade is also being experienced elsewhere. The very real challenge nationally is around neglect and what constitutes “good enough” in terms of home conditions, parenting capacity and the potential for parents and carers to change at a timescale children need.
“There has certainly been an increase in elements such as child sexual exploitation and criminal exploitation of children that has led authorities to feel they need to look after some children affected by these issues.
“There’s been greater publicity, scrutiny and media coverage around particular issues. This has had an impact on decision making by the authorities and it could even be said that the scrutiny of regulators has had a similar impact.
“There is a national debate as to the extent to which each of these elements have had an impact – opinions differ. What can’t be disputed is that all of those elements are in play both in Oxfordshire and nationally – and the statistics don’t lie. The trends are clear.”
Oliwia Bieniak, a care leaver and Chair of Oxfordshire County Council’s Children in Care Council, said: “As a care leaver I have long experience of being cared for and working with children’s social care teams in Oxfordshire. My experience with them was overall a very positive one. They are passionate about their jobs and do their best despite the hurdles thrown in their direction.”