We have to turn the tide when it comes to cutting early intervention services

Posted by / Wednesday 15 November 2017 / Early intervention Government spending
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New analysis by Action for Children, The Children’s Society and the National Children’s Bureau has laid bare the scale of reductions to funding for children’s services for the first time.

Just over seven years since the Coalition Government delivered their emergency budget, central government allocations for children and young people’s services has fallen 24% from £10.0bn to £7.6bn.

The impact of these reductions is becoming apparent.

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A recent survey of local councillors found that funding for children’s services remains a major concern. It isn’t hard to see why. Across the same period local authority spending on children and young people’s services has fallen from £10.0 bn in 2010/11 to £8.4 bn in 2015/16. This is a drop of 16%.

The difference between how much councils have to spend and the demand on service mean that in 2015/16 alone, there was a £872 million gap. This is only set to increase in future years with council ill equipped to rely on reserves to plug the gap.

Looking behind the headline there is a worrying trend emerging within children’s service budgets.

Councils are increasingly being forced to spend the majority of funding intervening at a stage when problems for children and young people have reached crisis point. When they are place on child protection plans or taken into care. This is often because, when problems reach crisis point, councils are forced by law to act. This means that every year councils have to find a way to respond to increased demands – even if it means spending more.

When funding is tight, this leaves little choice but to turn away from early intervention services – those which can step in and help prevent things from getting worse like children’s centres and family support.

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In 2015/16, late intervention represented 73% of local authority spending on children and young people’s services. This is up from 58% in 2010/11. In comparison, early intervention now represents 26% of local authority spend on children and young people’s services. This is down from 36% in 2010/11.

The demand for late intervention is only increasing. Since 2010 there has been a 31% increase in the number of children subject to a child protection plan, 108% increase in the number of children protection investigations and a 13% increase number of children in care.

This end of the systems simply cost more to deliver. As demand goes up, so does the cost. As the cost for late intervention increases, there is even less money available for early intervention services. It creates a vicious cycle that means councils lack the resources to break it.

But in and amongst these numbers we shouldn't lose sight of what it means to children. Leaving problems to get worse and worse means they are the ones who suffer.

This is something that we have simply have to change. The Government has to act. We need to see the Treasury must urgently address the funding gap between demand and resource, leaving too many children without the support they need.

We have to help councils find ways to prioritise early help – even with the demand for late intervention not disappearing overnight. Additional funding could be used to facilitate services such as support for parents and community-based youth services. The aim would be to help more children before problems escalate.

Finally, the government has to clarify plans for the future of funding local services. There is uncertainty about whether current business rate reforms will go ahead. We also don’t know how funding will be allocated across England. This can’t be left as a question hanging over councils.

Simply put, the time has come for government to turn the tide in cuts and uncertainty around funding for children and young people’s services.