by Nina Biehal (HESTIA)
In February, Nina Biehal was invited to present some of the findings of the HESTIA study to the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on thresholds for care. This group includes members of parliament and members of the House of Lords who are looking into the dramatic rise in the number of children placed in care in recent years. This rise has occurred in the context of increasing welfare conditionality and substantial cuts in funding for local authority services under the government’s austerity programme, which have led to rising family poverty and family stress. In the face of reduced funding and rising demand for services, local authorities have increasingly focused on providing statutory services and there have been significant cuts to preventive services to support children and families on a voluntary basis. Some commentators have suggested that the rise in the number of children placed away from home is also due to a lowering of thresholds for taking children into care. However, findings from the HESTIA study on the severity of abuse and neglect experienced by children referred to social services suggest that, on the contrary, these thresholds are high, with services focusing principally on children who experience severe maltreatment. It seems likely that in the context of increasing ‘demand’ and a significant reduction in preventive services, social workers are focusing principally on children with the most serious problems.