JimAhead of today's [12 Nov] inaugural MASH Conference (click here for details), editor of www.careknowledge.com, Jim Kennedy, considers the renewed focus on routes to permanency for looked after children:

ADCS's latest report confirms a continuing overall increase in demand for child protection and care services, but shows that changes in demand vary widely across authorities, with some reporting increases of 100% in some types of activity and others noting decreases of up to 30%.

Those authorities who had seen decreases in safeguarding activity put this down to:

• increasing early help services
• better multi-agency working, and
• increasing the speed with which children are found permanent placements

In its conclusions, the report confirms that many of the reasons for increased safeguarding activity, identified in the earlier stages of the research held true for the most recent phase including it says "the effects of the Southwark Judgement; increased public and professional awareness and improved multi-agency training; and better awareness of complex cases where parental factors are affecting the children such as domestic abuse, substance misuse and mental health".

But the conclusion also points to new pressures on child care activity - specifically in the new arrangements for children on custodial remand to be treated as looked after children, which make predictions for future demand difficult.

The report places a good deal of faith in the likelihood that increased early intervention will lead to decreases in safeguarding activity. That faith is partly based on the evidence offered by authorities in this phase of the research which have succeeded in making investment at the early end of the system - and believe they have seen reduced safeguarding activity, as a result. It seems to me that how this dimension plays out, in reality, across the next few years, is central, both to assumptions made, and to next generation improvements in child care.

I also think the report carries a range of data that merit much wider investigation and potential debate - particularly those that affect the Government's plans for adoption, with evidence about the difficulty of securing sibling placements, in some ways balanced by the success in increasing other forms of permanent placement. But the report also offers core information on issues such as fostering and work with children from black and ethnic minority communities that carry wider interest.

Finally, the report does make reference to the tsunami of financial restraint that has clobbered local authorities over recent years, but generally notes that child care investment has been protected. However, it would be interesting to see more debate generated on how this factor - amongst all the others - is affecting behaviour. Have resources, for example, increased at the same rate as the increased demand noted in the report? And what is likely to be the pattern over the next few years?

We will have a full report on the MASH Conference, including videos, later this week. For live updates from the event follow @policingtoday & @socialcaredan on Twitter.