AN unprecedented coalition of private and voluntary sector groups working with children in care has been formed to fight for better services despite the financial squeeze.
The Scottish Children’s Services Coalition warns public spending cuts are threatening vulnerable children, including those with significant disabilities.
The group, which includes specialists in residential care and special education for children with complex needs, has sent out briefings to MSPs, councils and Scottish Government officials.
Unusually, it brings together charities and the independent sector to lobby to protect care packages, while producing evidence of ways in which services can be preserved while still saving money.
Members argue that children could lose out on high-quality care in the private or voluntary sector because of a misguided view that their services are more expensive.
“Whatever decisions are made about placements should have the child at the centre, not the cost”
At present, the coalition claims spending cuts are leading to intense scrutiny of support packages for children with the most complex needs – including autism, learning disabilities, ADHD and mental health problems. They say that, too often, blanket funding cuts are being imposed rather than looking at what the child needs.
Coalition members include Who Cares?, the advocacy organisation for children in care; private residential care provider Spark of Genius; Fife residential schools Falkland House and Starley Hall; Scottish charity Mindroom, which campaigns for children and adults with learning difficulties; and residential and foster care provider Young Foundations.
With the number of Scots children in care at its highest level since 1982, the coalition warns a crisis is looming. A statement said: “It is clear that funding cannot keep pace with demand. Doing more with less is central to ensuring children’s services do not suffer as a result of these cuts.”
Members fear councils are protecting their own services, while cutting referrals to charities and private providers.
Heather Gray, director of Who Cares? said: “A lot of organisations are seeing huge scrutiny on placement costs and a real drive to bring the costs down. It is a growing trend. These services can be expensive, but that’s because of the level of need involved.
“It is absolutely right in a climate like this that there is scrutiny, but whatever decisions are made about placements should have the child at the centre, not the cost.”
Ms Gray added that in some cases the pressures being placed on private and voluntary sector providers to accept blanket cuts are putting at risk Scottish Government policies on early intervention and improving the life chances of children in care. “These areas are under huge strain,” she said.
The coalition is calling for a new working relationship between the Scottish Government, councils and the voluntary and private sectors, based on “equality and mutual respect”. Among complaints by members is the suggestion that the tendering procedures used by many councils does not subject in-house services to the same close analysis of costs as they do outside agencies.
The coalition’s briefing for MSPs warns: “The clear danger is that children could be missing out on the care best suited to their needs, which independent and third-sector providers consistently deliver, because of misconceptions about the costs associated with using certain types of service providers.”
Ms Gray added: “There’s an urgent need for local and national government to work more closely with the third and independent sectors.”