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As Children’s Commissioner, I have a statutory duty to promote and protect the rights of all children, but to have particular regard to children who are living away from home or receiving social care services.

Children’s social care works with children who cannot live at home and who are taken into care, children at risk of harm who are placed on child protection plans, and then children who are entitled to specialist statutory help to improve their welfare who are placed on child in need plans.

The children on child in need plans might be experiencing a range of challenges – they might be a young carer, or being targeted for criminal exploitation, or have a parent struggling with substance misuse, or be experiencing the domestic abuse of a parent, or they might be disabled. The cohort of children supported under child in need plans is incredibly varied. Crucially, these plans are voluntary – they are meant to be there for parents who are willing and ready to accept help.

And yet, until now we have known far too little about these children – who they are, what help they get, or whether it makes the difference it should. They do not get the national attention or political focus as other groups of children involved with the system. The data available on them is less robust.

My new report, Children on Child in Need Plans, found over 100,000 of England’s most vulnerable children who are on social service plans are getting a postcode lottery of support with huge regional variations dictating the level of protection they get.

It is vital that we get things right for children on child in need plans. Good support will not only help to make their lives happier and healthier but can also prevent things escalating to the point where a child might need to be taken into care.

I am passionate about making sure all children are supported to live with their families whenever that is in their best interests, so I don’t want any child to miss out on the support that can make that happen. But it also matters because of the crisis we are now seeing in funding for local authorities, some of which is being driven by the incredibly high costs of placements for children in care.

It is only by getting help right at this earlier stage that we will prevent this escalation in costs. Whilst some children will always need care, and won’t be able to live with their birth family, where additional support would make that possible, we all must do whatever we can to make that happen. It is better for children, better for families and better for the taxpayer.

This report draws on data collected, but not previously analysed, about these children to show which groups of children are getting plans, where in the country they are, and how long they are staying on these plans. It shows that in some areas of the country the vast majority of children involved with social care are placed on child in need plans, while in others it is relatively few. It shows that disabled children are on plans for, on average, four times as long as other children. And that there is huge variation in whether children with severe special educational needs are getting plans or not.

There will a range of reasons for this variation, but I hope this report opens up a deep and honest conversation about what the purpose of child in need plans should be, why things are done so differently in different areas, and how we can improve support for this group of children so that they can thrive.

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