Funding cuts force councils to slash early help services

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According to a group of children’s charities, ‘crippling’ funding cuts mean councils are forced to help only children in crisis.

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Council spending on early help services designed to spot signs of neglect and abuse fell by 40 per cent between 2010/11 and 2015/16, finds the report

A new report by the charities reveals that central government funding cuts have left councils with no option but to close services designed to spot signs of neglect and abuse early and focus their attention on crisis intervention for children and families, ‘firefighting’ problems after they have escalated.

The ‘Turning the Tide report by National Children’s Bureau (NCB), The Children’s Society and Action for Children, finds that council spending on early help services designed to spot signs of neglect and abuse early fell by 40 per cent between 2010/11 and 2015/16, while spending on crisis support rose by seven per cent to £6.1bn.

In contrast to central government funding cuts of £2.4bn to children and young people's services, it says, councils have cut their own spending by slightly less, £1.6bn over five years. At the same time, it says, there has been a 108 per cent increase in child protection investigations as demand for council help ‘soars’.

A breakdown by local authority shows that the most deprived councils in England have cut spending on children’s services by almost a quarter – six times as much as the least deprived councils. The biggest cut between 2010 and 2017 was in Yorkshire and Humber at 25 per cent, followed by London and the north west at 22 per cent.

Children’s and youth centres, teenage pregnancy support, short breaks for disabled children, information and advice for young people and family support are some of the services that are affected by the cuts to early intervention.

According to the three charities, between 2010/11 and 2015/16, central government funding for early intervention services fell by £1.7 billion across England.

The report calls upon the Government to:

  • Urgently address the funding gap in children and young people’s services
  • Work with local authorities to ensure additional funds are used to improve early intervention
  • Take into account local need when making future decisions about investment in children and young people’s services, and clarify its plans to reform local Government funding.

Sir Tony Hawkhead, chief executive of  Action for Children, said, ‘Crippling central government funding cuts have left local authorities with no option but to close early help services designed to spot signs of abuse and neglect and move to a ‘crisis’ fire-fighting model.

‘Leaving local authorities without the necessary resources to help children and families at an early stage has a devastating cost, both in social and financial terms.

‘With no long-term solution on the table, children’s services are on an unstable and dangerous footing. We’re calling on the government to prioritise the services children need before this crisis turns into a catastrophe for the next generation of children and families.’

Anna Feuchtwang, chief executive of the National Children's Bureau, added, ‘There is a relentless squeeze on funding for children's services and councils are seeing their budgets dwindle at an alarming rate. Do we really want a system that can only help children and young people at immediate risk of harm, but can't step in to help families before problems deteriorate? 

‘We need urgent investment to alleviate the mounting pressure on children's services, and a commitment from Government that all children should get the right support at the right time.'

A Government spokesperson said, 'We want every child, no matter where they live, to receive the same high quality care and support. That’s why more than £200 billion has been made available to councils for local services, including children’s services, up to 2019-20.

'Councils have a duty to provide appropriate care for the children in their area, including responding to referrals. We are supporting them to deliver efficient services by investing £200 million in the Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme – this includes projects providing targeted support for children in need.'

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