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Protecting the most vulnerable? - Birmingham council cuts its children’s services

From the West Midlands Social Work Action Network: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

As Birmingham City Council sets its budget for 2013-14, nearly a quarter of the proposed total cuts of £110 falls disproportionately on the Children and Young People’s Budget. There are also significant cuts planned to Play and Youth Services which will be subject to £1m worth of cuts over two years.

The planned cuts of £24m fall across a wide range of services including:

• Scrapping the children’s hospital social work* team

• Reducing intensive supervision of young people facing custody

• Diminishing the Children’s Rights and Advocacy service

• Reducing staffing levels and eligibility criteria in Children’s disability services

• Cutting staffing levels and training in the ‘Position of Trust’ child protection service

• Reducing the teenage pregnancy education and prevention service

• Closing 5 children’s homes

• Floating the idea that children over the age of 12 would no longer be admitted to care

The Labour Group claims that there are budget ‘black holes’ left behind by the previous council administration which largely fall within the CYP budget, and to make up for these unrealised cuts, new and deeper cuts will have to be made this coming financial year.

A significant retrenchment of children’s services is being proposed to protect safeguarding services, which have been repeatedly rated as inadequate by OFSTED and are the subject of a Government improvement notice.

Responding to the council’s budget consultation, West Midlands Social Work Action Network has focused on claim of the leader of the Council Sir Albert Bore that the Labour Group is seeking to protect the most vulnerable in our community through the budget setting process.

The mark of a civilised society!

SWAN has drawn attention to the impact of the cuts to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service which is to be cut by one* third over two years, leading to a total budget cut of £2.86m over two years, and making highly trained and qualified staff redundant.

Young people currently referred to CAMHs have significant mental health difficulties - often as the result of traumatic life experiences, including family violence and child abuse. Young people requiring this service are by definition among the most vulnerable.

Commenting on these proposed cuts to CAMHS, the Clinical director of the Birmingham Children’s Hospital's Matthew Jenkins has said: "The mark of a civilised society is that it does protect and support the most vulnerable members of that society.

"I think that if we make these cuts in full, then we're going to be failing to do that and we're going to be failing the families and children who need those services so badly."

Decommissioning the voluntary sector

The community and voluntary sector organisations providing a range of preventative and targeted children’s services will see half* their funding, of £8.7m, withdrawn over the next two years. These services are currently provided to 5,500 children and their families.

SWAN has charged that ‘the CVS sector has had an important role in providing certain children’s services due to its relationship to local communities in which they are rooted and to the greater trust that exists between families and local non-statutory organisations. For some of these reasons, CVS organisations have a better track record of engaging with hard to reach families. This will now be lost.’

‘To borrow Sir Albert’s phrase, these cuts will herald the end of the local voluntary sector as we know it in the city.’

The long term implications on the withdrawal of this funding, on small and medium CVS organisations and the communities they serve, is of significant concern and threatens their future viability.

The moral and economic cut!

Placing looked after children in the loving care of a foster family rather than residential care was the repeated justification of Cllr Brigid Jones in support of further children’s homes closures at the budget consultation meetings. Cllr Jones, the Cabinet member for Children and Young People, has stated that further home closures in Birmingham was the one cut where the moral and economic case coincided,

The evidence of young people affected by the current round of children’s homes closures being found alternative foster placements was brought into question by a recent report to cabinet which found that ‘there has been a rise in foster care recruitment recently but it is still uncertain as to how many foster carers will be able to care for more challenging young people.’

Further money from the home closures was set aside for external placements - eg. to pay private sector care providers. ‘It is intended that £1.4million of the identified efficiencies will be re-invested to support the purchase of alternative placements for young people affected by the closures and for whom alternative placements are not available internally.’ (Para 4.2.2)

The young people living in the five homes currently targeted for closure will face the disruption of a further move completely unrelated to their needs, although in the consultation the young people said they ‘broadly they liked the Homes, felt safe, were supported by staff and were settled.’

Failure to inform and consult

In spite of the size of the cuts in some service areas and likely impact on young people, very little information has been shared through the budget consultation process regarding the specific budget options.

Over £3m of cuts to CAMHS service is explained in 126 words! No attempt is made to provide the grounds for these cuts, or explanation as to the consequences for young people who will be denied this important service in future.

For SWAN ‘without sufficient reasons we are unable give intelligent consideration and make intelligent response to this and other budget proposals.’

Questions have also been raised as to the effectiveness of the consultation in reaching the people and organisation most affected by the cuts.

Retrenchment – the ultimate false economy

West Midlands SWAN concludes their consultation response with a very bleak outlook for vulnerable children and young people in the city.

‘The vision and commitment to develop children’s services of the last Labour Government is now being dismantled locally by Birmingham’s City Council. Integrated tiers of children’s services with an emphasis on early intervention and prevention are being stripped out by these cuts.

Historically, high levels of child poverty in the city have increased under the last two years of the Con-Dem Government. The impact of the Government's ‘welfare’ reforms have yet to take full effect on families, but will cause further significant financial hardship and stress when they do.

These ‘year on year’ cuts occur at the point of growing need as a result of demographic changes and increasing stress on poor families which contributes to a growing demand for services. There is an understood relationship between increasing family poverty and family breakdown.

The de-commissioning, dis-integration and retrenchment of children’s services to protect the safeguarding services is the ultimate false economy and profound strategic failure.’

* This post was changed on 16 January to reflect these changes from Swan (in bold in the text):

- hospital social work team originally read "hospital social team."

- cut by one third originally read "cut by two thirds"

- half their funding originally read "all their funding"


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