School staff in Derbyshire should be able to ‘see the signs’ of potential child abuse, says senior county councillor as he defends planned cuts to vital service

editorial image

School staff are to be expected to spot the early signs of potential child abuse because they are ‘eyes and ears of our communities’, says a senior councillor.

In a meeting of Derbyshire County Council’s full council on Wednesday, cabinet member for children and young people, Coun Alex Dale, defended planned cuts to the early help service.

The service’s budget is to be slashed by 60 per cent, from £12.9 million to £4.5 million by 2020.

This week, the Local Democracy Reporting Service revealed that 200 staff are set to lose their jobs by October through the cutbacks.

These are among 462 jobs which the authority is set to cut this year.

The service aims to prevent harm from occurring to children and teenagers and to stop less-serious child abuse cases from escalating.

It currently caters for more than 4,000 children.

At the meeting, Coun Dale said he was ‘happy’ to offer assurances on the proposals.

He said that Lincolnshire had brought in a similar revised early help service and there is ‘no sign of a rise in children in care as a result of the smaller, more targeted service’.

The review aims to help schools to set up their own versions of the early help service, to take the burden off the authority.

This would be funded by £3m already held by the council in its schools budget.

Alongside this, the authority is providing £1.3m over the next three years to set up a transition term to ensure the changes to the service are carried out smoothly.

Coun Dale said: “Schools are the eyes and ears of our communities, they know the child, they will see the signs.

“A more targeted service will enable us to help the most vulnerable and families who most need our help and to effect as much positive change as possible to these families.”

Coun Kevin Gillot asked Coun Dale if he could say that no child would come to harm through the proposals, adding: “You may get serious case reviews or criminal proceedings out of this, and that rests squarely with you (Coun Dale) as a politician.”

In response, Coun Dale said: “That is a quite ridiculous assertion. It would be absurd to say no child will ever be at risk in Derbyshire.

“I have considered these proposals very, very seriously.”

In a recent county council report on the early help review, the authority published statements from several head teachers who raised concerns about the added pressure it would place on teachers.

Sharon James, head teacher at Bramley Vale Primary School, representing 10 primary, infant and secondary schools in and around Bolsover, said: “We currently feel swamped by the increasing demand on schools to provide support for children and families who are struggling and feel this will just increase to breaking point.”

Other head teachers, such as at primary schools in Tintwhistle and Simmondley, stated that the review would lead to a ‘vicious cycle’ of increased needs from children and families, and pressure on teachers.

Eddie Bisknell , Local Democracy Reporting Service