Debate News London’s voluntary sector - the unseen lynchpin of children’s services A study of voluntary and community groups supporting children and families across the capital confirms that in the face of cuts, closures and reduced capacity in the statutory sector, the voluntary sector is filling the gap, stepping up to meet increasing levels and complexity of need. Beneath the Threshold, which analysed feedback from surveys and interviews with almost a hundred organisations providing services in London, reports that 86% had seen an increase in the number of children, young people and families accessing their service, and the same proportion were finding the needs of their service users to be more complex than in the past. Within this rising demand for support, concerns about child safeguarding and mental health are also increasing, meaning pressure on even the smallest charities to uphold stringent standards in policies, governance and staff training. “We knew when we started this research that London’s VCS was experiencing the impact of changes in statutory services,” says Sharon Long, Director of Partnership for Young London. “What we’ve found is that the voluntary sector is indeed supporting more children, young people and families who don’t necessarily meet the threshold for statutory intervention, and that the majority are confident in their own practice and their working relationships with other safeguarding agencies; however, very few are confident they can continue to meet local need, and the majority don’t feel as though they can challenge other agencies when it comes to taking referrals or calling out bad practice.” Kathy Evans, CEO of Children England, added: “This study shines a spotlight on the practical realities for London’s voluntary and community organisations in their vital and diverse roles in their communities, and their commitments to work collaboratively with other agencies to keep children and young people safe. This study is specific to London but builds a picture that resonates with what we also hear from voluntary organisations all over the country. Whatever stress local authority child protection arrangements are under, it’s clear that the voluntary sector’s role in the multi-agency system is vital in keeping children safe.” Partnership for Young London is convening a series of cross-sector round tables to address the issues raised in the report, including the dramatic impact of funding reductions across the statutory and voluntary sectors and the implications of possible changes to Local Safeguarding Children Boards as a result of the Children and Social Work Act.  Beneath the Threshold examines voluntary sector perspectives on child safeguarding in London, in the context of changes in statutory service funding and policies. It was co-ordinated by Children England, Partnership for Young London and Race Equality Foundation.  61% of survey respondents cited an increase in child protection concerns and referrals.  53% of survey respondents cited an increase in referrals to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services.  Partnership for Young London connects everyone who cares about young people in London – bringing together organisations, local and regional government, and young people themselves. We develop and share knowledge and skills – equipping others to help young people in London access the support they need. We influence policy and practice – generating the new ideas that will help young Londoners thrive.  When asked what was working well in terms of safeguarding, the most common answers were ‘staff training’ and ‘having the appropriate policies and procedures’. Respondents were less likely to say ‘referrals into social care’ or ‘governance arrangements’ were working well.  Over a third of respondents thought the effectiveness of multi-agency responses to safeguarding issues had improved recently, and around a third thought they were the same as before. 26% thought there had been a decrease in the effectiveness of multi-agency responses to safeguarding issues.  Only 10% of respondents said they were confident of their capacity to meet local safeguarding need.  Only 38% felt they could challenge bad practice in other agencies.  Children England is a charity created, governed and inspired by other charities. Our mission is to change the world for England’s children by harnessing the energy, ingenuity and expertise of the voluntary organisations that work on their behalf.  Section 30 of the Children and Social Work Act 2017 provides for the omission of the requirement for Local Safeguarding Children Boards in the Children Act 2004.