According to the Local Government Association (LGA), councils are cutting back on children’s centre spending to fund support for growing numbers of looked-after children.
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The LGA, which has carried out an analysis of Government figures, says councils have been forced to reduce their spending on children’s centres by nearly a quarter in four years.
The LGA, which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, says that while spending on children’s centres has fallen, councils have had to increase how much is spent on children in care by almost a fifth due to rising demand - the number of looked-after children is at its highest since the 1980s.
Figures show that councils spent nearly £4.3 billion providing care and support for looked-after children in 2017/18, an increase of 18 per cent since 2014/15.
The LGA says that the funding pressures are ‘so great’ that nine in 10 councils are now overspending their children’s social care budgets, which includes funding for children’s centres.
It warns it is ‘inevitable’ councils will be forced to close more children’s centres unless children’s services, which face a £3.1 bn funding gap by 2025, are properly funded in this year’s Spending Review.
Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, councillor Anntoinette Bramble, said, ‘Children’s centres can provide a lifeline for children, parents and carers, offering an incredibly important service in the local community.
‘While many councils have adapted well to the funding pressures and changed how they provide children’s centre services, there is a growing sense that councils have done all they can within ever tightening budgets.
‘It is inevitable that without new investment from Government in children’s services, councils will face the difficult but unavoidable decision of having to cut or close early help services such as children’s centres.
‘This is why it is hugely important that the Government delivers a long-term sustainable funding solution for children’s services in this year’s Spending Review.’
Commenting on the analysis, Sir Pete Lampl, founder and executive chairman of the Sutton Trust, said, ‘Good quality early years provision makes a huge difference to the development of children, especially those who come from the poorest homes. Yet, as the Local Government Association’s analysis shows, cash-strapped councils have had to drastically cut the spending on children’s centres. This is why it is vital that going forward Government provides sustainable funding for children’s services.’
Minister for children and families Nadhim Zahawi said, 'We want every child to have the best start in life, with the opportunities and the stability to fulfil their potential, which is why we are spending around £3.5 billion on our early education entitlements this year alone – more than any other government.
'In addition to this, we are investing £84 million over the next five years to support up to 20 local authorities who are seeing high or rising demand for children’s social care to work more effectively with their most vulnerable families. We believe it is up to local councils to decide how to organise and commission services in their areas, as they are best-placed to understand local needs.'
The LGA also wants the Government to commit to investing in health visitors in the Spending Review.
It says there has been a ‘significant’ fall in the number of health visitors and investment is ‘urgently needed’ to help safeguard the future of the country’s youngest generation.
According to the LGA, the number of health visitors has fallen by 20 per cent since 2015. This is due to health visitors retiring or taking up other roles within the NHS, as well as too few trainees entering the profession. At the same time, the numbers of vulnerable children and families is rising, leaving the workforce ‘stretched to its limits’.
It says there has also been a loss of investment in the health visitor workforce since and a reduction in council’s public health budgets.