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The pressures on budgets for children’s social care (£8bn annually in England) can be just as severe and significant as those for adults’ services, but they typically receive less attention. Having worked with the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) to develop a well-received advisory risk assessment tool for discretionary use by councils with adult social care responsibility (launched in 2015), CIPFA has now developed a parallel tool for children’s services.
The aim is to check whether unsustainable financial pressures might be faced in children’s social services. By assessing the extent to which various risk factors apply, the tool gives a broad impression of how challenging it is likely to be to generate the planned level of future savings. The answers involve a fair degree of judgement, but combining a wide range of such questions leads to a well-grounded overview. There will be two ways of using the tool:
First, to facilitate informed discussion and consideration across finance and social care together of the practical deliverability of budget proposals.
Second, to assess the total level of risk, and also to compare that with other parts of the country. An automated benchmarking version of the tool is available online which not only makes it easier to provide a quick visual view of the results, but also allows authorities to compare their results with those of other participants.
The extent of difficulty faced will be a function of the proportion of the 34 questions for which a high risk position is indicated, and the scale and speed of savings required. The tool is designed to inform the budget-setting process. This tool is, of course, only one indicative means of assessing the position, and cannot take account of all local circumstances: it needs to be part of wider discussions.