One in four severely absent kids ‘rejected’ for social care support

New children's commissioner report calls for 'joined-up approach' on poor school attendance

New children's commissioner report calls for 'joined-up approach' on poor school attendance

Referrals to social care services for one in four “severely absent” pupils resulted in “no further action”, prompting calls for more help from wider support services to tackle the attendance crisis.

A new report by the children’s commissioner has exposed “substantial variation” in support across the country for children involved in social care.

The rate of children having no further action taken (NFA) after a referral to children’s services varied from between 1.6 per cent in one area, to 63 per cent in another, analysis of data from 2021-22 showed.

In these cases, the social workers decided the children did not meet the threshold for intervention by services, although they may have been offered early help, the report added.

The average NFA rate nationally was 32 per cent – suggesting various thresholds for support, the report said.

The report found, “staggeringly”, that for a quarter of children classed as “severely absent” – missing more than half of school sessions – and referred to children’s services led to NFA.

“Tackling the root causes of poor school attendance will need a joined-up approach, with interventions within school supplemented by support for the whole family,” the report added.

“It is concerning that so many children struggling with attendance, where partner agencies have identified a need for more intensive help, are not getting it.”

‘Postcode lottery’ for children in need plans

The report also found a “postcode lottery” for children in need plans. In one council, 70 per cent of children involved with children’s social care were on child in need plans, while in another it was as low as 3.6 per cent.

Variability in support for the 106,000 children on child in need plans – who are often “highly vulnerable” – was also uncovered.

“This suggests a much more consistent model is needed, with complete clarity about what the children’s social care input should be for children with high levels of educational need,” the report added.

De Souza echoed recommendations from her children missing education report last month.

This included training social workers in “educational neglect”, banning home education for children with a social worker and giving virtual school heads powers to direct admissions for children in need.

“Getting the right support when children need it 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,” she said.

The Department for Education was approached for comment.


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  1. Maureen McKenna

    In Glasgow, in 2017, we did some work looking at the difference that prosecuting families made to their child’s attendance. We found that in almost all cases, the Sheriff took ‘no further action’ because of the mental health needs of the young person or their family members. We compared this with schools where they engaged supportively with the family and worked with them to explore the causes behind the absences. Out of 543 cases, the litigation process resulted in an average improvement of 4.64% (8.82 days), the supportive approach resulted in an average improvement of 7.57% (14.3 days). The cost of the litigation was over £150,000 a year – so after consultation with headteachers, we kept the option of litigation we actively promoted working actively with the family – here’s a list of what we found worked well
    • Whole school approach to improving attendance
    • Act on absenteeism quickly
    • Individual approach
    • Continued engagement with the child/young person
    • Parental/family engagement
    • ELOs and Pastoral Care Teacher develop solutions/approaches
    • Change of subjects
    • Alternative Pathways
    • Joint visits with other agencies
    • Once barriers to attendance identified manage them
    • Part-time timetable
    • Interrupted Learners
    • MCR Mentoring
    • Work closely with all agencies involved with the family
    • Link with primary schools to build relationships early and set expectations