SEND funding shortfall of £185m in London, claim councils

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A funding shortfall of £185 million for children’s SEND and social care in the capital is putting crucial services at risk, London Councils warns.

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A new report commissioned by the umbrella group looks at provision for children with special educational needs and disabilities and children’s services and the financial pressures they face.

It claims there has been a dramatic increase in demand for SEND support due to the rise in the number of children and young people with Education Health and Care Plans (31 per cent from 2014/15 to 2017/18.)

While budgets have increased, spending has increased faster leaving London boroughs with shortfall in 2017/18 of £77m.

In children’s social care, the overspend stands at 9 per cent in 2017/18, or £108 million.

Increased complexity of children’s needs and use of specialist care placements are cited as factors explaining the rapidly rising costs.   

The research was carried out by Isos Partnership who analysed detailed financial data from the London boroughs and fieldwork among London children’s services departments, focusing on children’s social care and special educational needs, where funding is particularly stretched.

The report highlights the value of investing in preventative services that stem future demand for more expensive services. For example, several boroughs are investing in expert SEND practitioners who help schools maintain children with more challenging needs in a mainstream setting.

The research looked at how local areas might cut pressures on budgets and includes recommendations for national and local government.

Key findings

There is strong evidence from across London that boroughs’ good-quality early intervention services prevent needs escalating and lead to better outcomes for children and young people.

  • In SEND, there has been a dramatic and sustained rise in demand for support brought about by a very rapid increase in children and young people with EHCPs.

  • London boroughs face particularly significant unfunded cost pressures in caring for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC). As London is a main destination for these children, boroughs have been disproportionately affected by the rising number of cases (a 53 per cent increase in London from 2014/15 to 2017/18) while Government funding has failed to keep pace.

  • Future government spending decisions must ensure early intervention is adequately funded – particularly considering that government funding for the Troubled Families programme is due to end in 2020. Without the continuation of this grant, boroughs will see their ability to provide early help significantly diminished.

Councillor Nickie Aiken, London Councils’ executive member for schools and children’s services, said, ‘The value of preventative services shines through these research findings, both in terms of positive impact on the lives of London’s most vulnerable children and young people and helping boroughs manage costs.

‘When children and families aren’t getting the right support at the right time, the effects can be disastrous – leaving children and young people vulnerable to family breakdown and involvement in youth crime.

‘London boroughs are committed to early intervention as the most cost-effective approach in the long term with the best results for children and families. However, we’re working in a context of fast-rising levels of demand for services while budgets are flatlining, with the result that we’re left to cope with an unsustainable annual funding shortfall of £185 million.

‘London faces extremely challenging pressures, but we know local authorities around the country are in similar financial difficulties. The Government needs to boost investment in children’s services in line with councils’ rising costs. That’s the only way to ensure the sustainability of the high-value, high-impact local services that make such a difference to children’s lives.’

The London Assembly Education Panel published its report last year detailing similar concerns.

Assembly member and panel chair Jennette Arnold, said, ‘It is a shame that a year to the day we published our report, there is more confirmation that SEND provision in London is in grave danger.

‘As the demand for SEND provision rises, so should spending in real terms per pupil. It is unrealistic and unsustainable that local authorities should put themselves in financial turmoil because they’re made to subsidise a deficit in SEND funding.

‘The mayor must continue to put pressure on the Government to ensure funding increases in real terms per pupil with high needs and the creation of new special schools, where the need is greatest.’

Barriers to joint-working

Separately, a new report by the Council for Disabled Children, supported by the True Colours Trust, highlights the role of strong leadership in streamlining and integrating the different systems of support that disabled children rely on.

It says that despite some barriers to joint working, such as pressure on resources, and the growing numbers of children with complex needs and life-limiting conditions, some local areas were able to work together on joint-commissioning, such as the Designated Clinical Officer for SEND.

Local areas also reported how involving children and families in decision-making could improve integration.

At an individual level, building dedicated time into support planning processes, talking with the child or young person and their family, and ensuring the conversation informs the resulting support package, was found to support better integration by uniting agencies around the needs, outcomes and aspirations of their service users.

Dame Christine Lenehan, director of the Council for Disabled Children, said, ‘Integrating services is especially important for children and young people with SEND, who not only often rely on support that spans health care, education and social work, but may be vulnerable in others ways. While the urgent need for better integration has long been recognised, in reality families are often faced with a wall of paperwork to get their child’s needs met.

‘The cruel irony is that initiatives designed to improve joined-up working have themselves failed to align with other programmes with the same aims from different parts of the system. Of course some areas, often those with strong leadership structures in place, are finding ways to improve local co-operation, but many others are not. This report is a wake-up a call of the urgent need to break down siloed working.’

  • The report ‘It takes leaders to break down siloes’ is available here.
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