Call for urgent funding for children’s services amid ‘breaking point’ fears

Children’s services must receive urgent funding if vulnerable youngsters in England’s poorest areas are to receive help during the coronavirus pandemic, five charities have said.

Local authorities’ services were experiencing a funding crisis before the outbreak, which may push them to “breaking point”, the Children’s Services Funding Alliance (CSFA) has warned.

The “need, and poor financial situation, of these authorities is likely to continue to deteriorate”, they warned.

The CSFA, which includes Action for Children, Barnardo’s, the Children’s Society, the National Children’s Bureau and the NSPCC shared their analysis with the Treasury.

They are calling for Chancellor Rishi Sunak to provide more longer term funding that will level up communities by being distributed according to need, and help councils intervene earlier when families need help.

Local authorities were operating with £2.2 billion less funding for children in 2018-19 compared with 2010-11, according to previous CSFA estimates based on Government data.

And budgets have increasingly been spent on services they are obliged to deliver, such as safeguarding and children in care, they say.

Spending in these areas is estimated to have risen 29% since 2010-11.

But the charities said these interventions are not improving outcomes for children, with some local authorities connecting a rise in child protection plans to a lack of early intervention work to prevent problems escalating.

The charities also said local authorities covering the most deprived areas have seen more than twice the size of cut to funding as the least deprived parts.

These are areas which tend to have high levels of unemployment and free school meal eligibility and are most likely to be vulnerable to the effects of the pandemic.

Government figures show local authorities have spent an additional £136 million on children’s social care between March and July, and there are ”early indications” local authorities are facing rising levels of need.

If need increases but is not matched with funding, the charities warned “we are likely to see an acceleration in a trend towards late intervention spending”.

One person working in children’s social care told the charities: “We are saying early help is most important in the lives of these children and young people.

“And that juxtaposition of having to say ‘this is really important but this is where we’re going to take the money from’, I think, is the real challenge of where we’re at in this point in time.”

NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless said “papering over the cracks” is not an option if the Government is serious about protecting children across England from the pandemic’s long-term impact.

He said: “A decade of under-investment by central Government meant local authorities across the country cut back on preventive and early intervention services while spending more on increasingly expensive care placements.

“The crisis will dramatically worsen this unsustainable situation as the risks to children increase while the financial impact undermines local authorities’ ability to respond, especially in more deprived areas that have already experienced the greatest losses in funding.”

Anna Feuchtwang, chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau, said: “We fear that this added pressure could push some councils over the edge.

“In this context, the notion of intervening early to support children and families is being dropped, as services focus scarce resources on emergency cases.”

Imran Hussain, director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, added: “A system geared only for crisis guarantees more children will end up in crisis.”

Councillor Judith Blake, chairwoman of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said: “If we are to avoid families falling into crisis and causing long-term damage to the prospects of children and young people, the spending review needs to ensure councils have enough funding to reinvest in the preventative services that children, young people and families need, as soon as they need it – and before problems escalate and reach crisis point.”

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