Assessing the budget risk in childrens social care


By Paul Carey-Kent, Policy Manager, CIPFA

With rising and changing demand and declining resources, funding children’s social services has now edged ahead of adult social care as the most pressing concern for local government finance heads in upper tier councils, according to findings in a report from CIPFA and Peopletoo.

With demand outstripping budgets and no radical improvement in outcomes of children’s services in a decade, there needs to be a greater focus on effective use of public money.

The report, Changing Children’s Lives, outlines the financial pressures felt by councils working to meet children’s social care needs and sets out the context for why the number of children receiving social care has risen in recent years. By understanding the circumstances for the increased pressure on children’s social services budgets, councils will be in a better position to meet the challenges and improve outcomes.

There has been a surge in demand for children’s care in recent years and the findings show that while the funding shortfall is a major and growing issue there needs to be effective leadership and performance management at the corporate level. Addressing the issue is more than just providing pounds and people. 

However, while consideration for the cause is important, the immediate financial pressures on services cannot be avoided. Having worked with the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) to develop an advisory risk assessment tool for councils with adult social care responsibility, CIPFA has developed a parallel tool for children’s services.

Authorities can use the Children’s Services Budget Risk Tool to check if unsustainable financial pressures might be faced in their 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 any planned level of savings. The answers involve a fair degree of judgement, but combining a wide range of such questions leads to a well-grounded overview that can inform the budget setting process.

Of course, the tool is only one indicative means of assessing the position and cannot take account of all local circumstances. Meeting the demand for children’s social services requires the government to understand why the surge has occurred since addressing the demand is a complex process that touches many different services.

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