Pupils at greater risk than ever

5th December 2008 at 00:00

A recent Edinburgh City Council report, Organisational Review of Support to Children and Young People's Service, highlighted major problems facing Edinburgh, which are replicated, to varying degrees, across Scotland.

Significant budget pressures were identified. In 2007, there was a Pounds 500,000 overspend on Working Together, which finances joint agency support for vulnerable young people. There were also significant pressures within this year's budget for services to vulnerable children, including Pounds 2.7 million on fostering and adoption.

The background is a national, even international, trend towards significantly increasing numbers of families in crisis and their children consequently being at major risk. Child-protection referrals in Edinburgh have increased by 40 per cent since 2005-06, from 1,078 to 1,510; the number of looked afteraccommodated children has risen by 11 per cent, from 1,196 to 1,327.

The upshot is significant. The equivalent of 50 more full-time social workers has been employed since 2004-05. An additional Pounds 6.2m had to be allocated for foster care and out-of-authority placements in 2008-09. Despite this, the number of children requiring to be accommodated increases, some statutory responsibilities are not being met, there is insufficient preventative family support for children vulnerable to these processes and staff report continuing, increasing pressures.

At the same time, pupil support groups, multi-agency teams which successfully co-ordinate planning for such children, suffer decreasing levels of participation from health and social work professionals, because energies are being concentrated on the most serious end of the at-risk spectrum.

The price of our increasingly-fragmented society is the need for ever-wider levels of support for young people and their families to stop them dropping off the precipice. Scottish Government statements about increasing funds to local government ring somewhat hollow when viewed against these ever-increasing demands on resources. Marginal increases in global resources are more than consumed by these growing needs from one end of the social spectrum.

This also spells crisis for schools. The number of troubled and troublesome youngsters is steadily rising. Their impact, especially in areas of greatest deprivation, is growing relentlessly. As these pressures are increasing, ring-fenced local funding to support them is being withdrawn, partly as a reflection of the Scottish Government's ending of ring-fencing but partly because such projects are the easiest to ditch in financial stringency. In Edinburgh, for example, the budget allocation for one full-time equivalent teacher to support young people with behavioural difficulties in the six schools facing the highest number of such problems has disappeared.

These issues will multiply if the present economic crisis has its expected effects. If the pressures on the most deprived schools are not to become unbearable, the Scottish Government and councils will need to prioritise such spending and revert to protecting funds for these purposes from the general pressures of wider, more universal services.

Alex Wood is seconded headteacher of Tynecastle High, Edinburgh.

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