The independent chair of South Tyneside’s child safety watchdog has slammed government funding cuts for putting vulnerable children increasingly at risk.
In a damning intervention, Sir Paul Ennals warned it was becoming harder for support agencies to prioritise early intervention – the most effective protection method.
Sir Paul’s coments came in the annual report of the South Tyneside Safeguarding Children Board (STSCB), which he has headed since last year.
The report revealed a 34 per cent rise in child hospital admissions due to self-harm in the year to April. It also showed the number of children identified as having a substance misuse problem had more than doubled, to 21.
In the report, he said: “I am required in this report to identify any areas of weakness regarding safeguarding practice within the partnership, and identify the causes of such weaknesses.
“In common with many of my fellow Independent Chairs across the country, I have concluded that the most significant safeguarding risks are due to the budget decisions of the current Government.
“All partners have faced deep reductions in their budgets - particularly the council - but the impact on CCGs, trusts, the police and schools is rapidly increasing.
“The impact of welfare reforms has been deep, levels of child poverty are rising, and the rolling out of Universal Credit to cover families in our region is already having a deep impact on many.”
Sir Paul added: “Government policies have made it increasingly hard for agencies to prioritise early intervention, despite the knowledge of practitioners and academics that this is the most effective way forward.
“The expectation of Government that services can continue to operate at the same level as in the past, on up to 50 percent less funding, is either naïve or mendacious.
“I give credit to partner agencies for the efforts they are all displaying in responding to these pressures, and the willingness of the partnership to work together in these challenging times.”
Despite the bleak funding outlook, the report shows that external scrutiny of STSCB’s services shows they are as good as most other areas, and in most cases better.
The STSCB is the key statutory mechanism for agreeing how organisations cooperate and work together to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and for ensuring this work is effective.
It is made up of representatives from all statutory partners and others concerned with safeguarding children.
Members include CAFCASS (Children and Family Courts Advisory and Support Service), the National Probation Service, NHS England (North East), Northumbria Police, South Tyneside Council and South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust.
South Tyneside Council said it wished to make no comment on the report.