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Troubled children 'could fall through cracks' amid budget cuts, says Croydon Safeguarding Children Board chair Paull Fallon
A "toxic combination" of slashed budgets and rising demand for children's services could result in tragedy among Croydon's youngsters, the chairman of Croydon's Safeguarding Children Board has warned.
Paul Fallon, the board's independent chairman for the last three years, said there was a real risk of troubled children "falling down the cracks" as services designed to protect them were stretched.
Speaking after the board's annual report revealed a 15 per cent rise in referrals to children's social services since last year, Mr Fallon said the combination of a rising workload and declining resources made fatal failures of communication more likely.
Some 4,818 concerns over children were reported to Croydon's social services in the 12 months ending in March 2013, up from 4,177 in 2011-12.
Mr Fallon, a former director of social services in Barnet, north London, said the rise itself suggested better awareness of vulnerable children following several high-profile child deaths in the UK.
But he added: "No one is suggesting that we are getting inappropriate referrals so it is a good thing that we are getting referrals, but the important thing is that people have the capacity to respond to them.
"The problem is partly cuts. We have seen reduced resources across the piece. You can't do that cosmetically. It is going to have a knock-on impact."
Croydon Council's children, families and learning department received £245.5m in Government grants last year, down from £321.8m the year before.
Further cuts are likely in 2013-14.
Mr Fallon said: "The board is about getting people to work smarter together so that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
"It is always very difficult, when people's budgets are reduced, to get them to focus on working together."
He added the growing workloads of schools and GPs, on which social largely depended to detect problems with at-risk children, were particularly problematic.
He also highlighted the "fragmentation" of children's services also increased the likelihood of breakdowns of communication.
Mr Fallon said: "Because of policies to contract things out, things are getting carved up into smaller and smaller pieces.
"It is a logical fact that the more agencies there are, the more difficult it is to get them to work together effectively.
"Every child death you read a report of, one of the failures is always communication - people sitting with a little bit of the jigsaw and no one putting the whole picture together and everyone assuming someone else is doing things.
"The more people there are, the more potential there is for kids to fall down the cracks in between.
He added: "There is always a risk of tragic consequences.
"Even in the most orderly local authority there is no guarantee that you are going to pick them up, so anyone who says it could not happen here is other an optimist or a fool."
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