Report published 16 December 2016. Government response published 9 March 2017.
Scope of the inquiry
The Department for Education recognised since 2010 that child protection services are not good enough but its subsequent response has not yet resulted in better outcomes. Spending on children's social work, including on child protection, varies widely across England and is not related to quality. Neither the DfE nor authorities understand why spending varies.
The actions taken by the Department for Education since 2010 to improve the quality of help and protection services delivered by local authorities for children have not yet resulted in services being of good enough quality, according to the National Audit Office.
Demand for help or protection is rising. As of 31 March 2015, 3% (391,000) of children under the age of 18 in England were assessed as being in need of help or protection. In 2013–14, there were 2.3 million initial contacts (up 65% since 2007–08). Over the past ten years there has been a 124% increase in serious cases where the local authority believes a child may be suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm. The most common risks to a child’s welfare are domestic violence and mental health concerns.
National Audit Office Report
The recent NAO report analysis found that spending on children's social work, including on child protection, varies widely across England and is not related to quality. Average spending on a child in need—£2,300 per year—has increased slightly over the last three years. Average reported spending on social work in 2014–15 ranged from an estimated spend of £340 per child in need in one authority to £4,970 per child in need in another. Neither the Department for Education nor authorities understand why spending varies.
Nationally the quality of help and protection for children is unsatisfactory and inconsistent, suggesting systemic rather than just local failure. Ofsted has found that almost 80% of authorities it has inspected since 2013 are not yet providing services rated as Good to help or protect children.
Good performance is not related to levels of deprivation, region, numbers of children or the amount spent on children in need. Ofsted will not complete the current inspection cycle until the end of 2017, a year later than originally planned. The Department does not therefore have up-to-date assurance on the quality of services for 32% of local authorities.