Children England responds to the NAO report "Pressures on Children's Social Care".

We welcome the confirmation from the National Audit Office that, in the face of huge financial pressures, local authorities have been forced to close non-statutory services in order to protect statutory services. We are also glad to see attention drawn to the failure of the care commissioning system to provide sufficient and appropriate homes for children in the care of the state. We have long argued that this marketplace, in which the business priorities of providers command more power than the will of the local authority to find a child the best home, should be replaced with a national commissioning system with the child at the centre.

It is extremely clear from the NAO’s report that almost all children’s services budgets are now unsustainable, with overspends unable to continue meeting rising demand. That 91% of areas are now overspending indicates that solving this funding problem is not merely a question of regional variation, or leadership choices. Organisations across the children’s sector have joined in an unprecedented campaign to ask the Treasury to put children at the heart of spending decisions.

With child protection assessments having risen by a stark 77% since 2010-11, it should now be a government priority to look holistically at families’ lives and the pressures on them, and develop a vision for healthy communities with children at their heart.

It is perplexing and disappointing that the Department for Education continues to fail in its duty to understand and support children’s services in meeting all children’s needs. It would be dangerous to assume that individual local authorities, especially in areas of high deprivation, can ‘manage demand’ with complete autonomy when, as the care crisis shows, councils do not have the power and scope to control demographic changes and the marketplace of providers.    

The report’s concern with local variation in the cost per child of children’s services, and its recommendations that the Department for Education prioritise reducing this, are unhelpful and distract from the reality that thousands of children need more concerted support from the government wherever they live, and the issues they face cannot be reduced to predictable and standardised costs.