Neglected and abused children in the Wigan borough are increasingly at risk from significant harm by the time social services reach them, worrying new figures show.
Social workers have warned that children in England face “generational trauma” as a result of cuts to social services, which they say have left them struggling to cope with “unmanageable” workloads.
Other news: Police investigate arson attacks on home and van
Around 3,360 children in Wigan were judged to be in need of support after being referred to social services in the 12 months to March, according to the latest Department for Education figures.
This was the equivalent of 493 in every 10,000 children, putting the level of need in Wigan among the highest in the country.
Of these children, 1,036 were made the subject of a child protection enquiry, which the British Association of Social Workers says indicates a child may already be at crisis point.
A spokesman for the organisation said cuts to preventative services such as Sure Start Centres means struggling families are not coming to the attention of social workers early enough.
This means it is “four times harder” to help them.
“At the same time the people who have been tasked with helping them have had their resources cut and their workload has increased,” he said.
“It’s a vicious circle. The Government needs to acknowledge the consequences of years of austerity policies and cuts, which are far from ending despite recent promises.”
Some families with children in need may simply be given advice or referred to agencies and services that can help, such as counselling or after-school clubs.
But when social workers suspect a child is suffering or is at risk of harm they will make what is known as a Section 47 inquiry, to determine if they need to step in.
If they conclude the child is at risk, they must then decide whether to put a protection plan in place.
The proportion of children in need who are the subject of Section 47 inquiries in Wigan has increased from 20 per cent in 2010-11 to 31 per cent in 2017-18.
Last year, 12 per cent of children were judged to be in need of a protection plan, up from 10 per cent seven years ago.
Across England, the number of children who were identified as being in need at some point during 2017-18 decreased slightly compared to 2010.
However, there was an “alarming” rise in the proportion that became the subject of a Section 47 inquiry or a protection plan.
Javed Khan, chief executive of children’s charity Barnardo’s, said the country had reached a “perfect storm”, with a system struggling to cope with children with increasingly complex need.
Without additional funding local authorities would be unable to stop children reaching crisis point, he added.
The Minister for Children and Families, Nadhim Zahawi, said the Government had recently published practical advice to social workers and was improving training to help them spot and help vulnerable children.
“We are investing up to £270 million in children’s social care programmes to improve the lives of vulnerable children, young people and families,” he said.
“But we are aware of the pressures on local authorities, so an additional £410 million was announced at Autumn Budget which local authorities can use to support adults and children’s social care services.”
James Winterbottom, director for children’s services at Wigan Council, said: “We take the responsibility of protecting our children and young people incredibly seriously and have a wide range of support on offer to help families get the help they need at the right time. Through The Deal and our innovative working with partners in the heart of our communities we are able to work with and support families in need of help and to respond quickly and effectively when children are in need of help and protection.
“We believe strongly in the importance of early help and know that children’s centres can play a very important role. That is why our Start Well model has focused the greatest resource in the areas of the borough where it is most needed, whilst ensuring all communities can still benefit from the support of a children’s centre.
“This means that rather than cutting services we have transformed how they are delivered and our staff now use a positive ‘high support and high challenge’ approach to working with children and families. This means being clear about risks and concerns but focusing on the strengths in the family.
“And the results of this work saw Ofsted rate our children’s services Good following an intensive four week inspection of our services and a recent report by Impower identifying that Wigan’s children’s services are the 4th most efficient in the country on the basis of cost and performance. We continue to invest in evidence informed preventative services through our commitments in the deal and work hard to ensure our social workers have some of the lowest caseloads in the country so that they can build effective relationships with children and families.”