Council leaders have defended a £60,000 cut in funding for children’s mental health services, fearing the authority is ‘turning its back’ on troubled youngsters.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council currently provides 2.5 full-time equivalent social workers to Child and Young People’s Mental Health Services (CAMHS) where they work alongside NHS staff from Combined Healthcare.
But according to the authority’s budget proposals, these workers would be reintegrated into social care, with CAMHS being reshaped to “prioritize a multi-agency approach” that allows “effective assessment regardless of where a child may arise”.
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The proposal would save £50,000 then in 2022/23, rising to £60,000 in future years.
Dave Evans, cabinet member for children and young people, told members of the Child and Family Services Review Committee that social workers were not as effective as they could be in their current roles and that a better way to deliver the service was possible.
He said: “They basically advise on welfare issues, but if the social welfare threshold is reached, the young person would need a separate social worker. This leads to duplication.
“It’s not a statutory role for the local authority – it’s a statutory role for our health partners.
“The relationship between us and the NHS is growing, it’s much better than before, and we want to keep it that way.
“CAMHS still has a long way to go until it is where we want it to be. But it has improved significantly since 2019. It is important that we continue this relationship and drive change.”
But Labor councilor David Williams has raised concerns about the council cutting funding for children’s mental health services at a time when demand could increase due to the pandemic.
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He said the committee had recently reviewed the performance of CAMHS and found that many young people were waiting too long for help due to a lack of early intervention.
Mr Williams said: “However you dress it, it effectively means £50,000 being taken out of a service for children and young people with mental health issues.
“What we’ve heard from young people is that they can wait anywhere up to 18 months. Simply put, how does a £50,000 cut from the City Council help solve the problems faced by our young people. I really fear that we are almost turning our backs on young people as their post-pandemic needs dramatically increase.”
Mr Evans insisted that support for young people with mental health needs was not improved by the presence of social workers in these roles.
He said: “These positions are not involved in early help and intervention. They are involved in children’s mental health services. We are placing social workers in work that they are simply not qualified to do. , when they’re not doing the job they’re qualified to do. I don’t think that helps anyone.
Niki Clemo, acting director of child and family services, acknowledged that any reduction in the provision of services for children with mental health needs was a “difficult conversation” to have.
But she told the committee social workers would be more effective if they returned to social care.
Services for children in Stoke-on-Trent were described as ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted in 2019, with the high number of caseworkers being a key issue raised by inspectors.
The city council recruited 77 social workers last year, but Ms Clemo said the problem had not gone away.
She said: “We have a constant battle to retain and recruit social workers. It’s about making sure we have the skills and expertise in service to take on the care responsibilities.”
“This is to ensure that we can meet our legal obligations to protect and safeguard children.”
A public consultation on the council’s budget proposals runs until February 14. To express yourself, visit stoke.gov.uk/budget2022