I help children cope, but too many are being failed as the system crumbles

With care services under so much pressure, vulnerable children are at risk of falling through the cracks. Photograph: Johner Images/Getty Images/Johner RF

When a teenage girl came to our early intervention service recently to help her to work through past domestic violence, it soon became clear she was in a volatile and potentially dangerous situation, with continuing abuse at home.

We made a safeguarding referral and she and her family were quickly assigned a social worker while we kept working with her; but it’s very worrying that without our service, this could have been missed.

Social care is under so much pressure from budget cuts and increasing demand. Services that can help before an issue reaches crisis have also been cut, and there’s always a risk that vulnerable children could fall through the cracks.

That’s why early intervention services, like the one I work for at the Children’s Society, are so important. Our emotional health and wellbeing service for children who have witnessed or experienced violence at home helps them to build their esteem and gives them a safe space to talk about what has happened. I am a practitioner and trained social worker and I give one-to-one sessions to children who need emotional support.

Our tiny team of four people works across three local authorities and is partly council-funded. We build relationships with the whole family, and work directly with the children, helping to create safety plans, for example.

We are there to complement other services. But with all the cuts other children’s services, our organisation, like many others, too often finds itself providing support at crisis point rather than the preventative, early help we are designed to give.

A report by the Children’s Society published this week with Action for Children and the National Children’s Bureau, found that over five years, the government has cut funding for early intervention services by £1.7bn. We see the impact of these cuts on the ground and we are often left to pick up the pieces of a system that’s crumbling around some of the most vulnerable children in our society.

Children and young people in our services come to us with problems of anger management, managing their emotions and feelings of guilt and loss from their parents’ separation. We provide a safe space to talk about those issues. We are most effective ingiving children a voice. It’s not just the children who are acting out or being aggressive who need help, it’s quiet kids too.

Helping teenagers to spot the signs of abusive relationships is another important part of what we do, as young people often model their relationships on their parents. This is so important for the rest of their lives.

Although the support we provide is therapeutic, we are not part of child and adolescent mental health services. Ideally, we are here to deal with lower-level emotional problems, those that are just as important to respond to. Responding early in this way can help stave off worse problems.

The number of children referred to us has soared and we simply cannot meet every demand. This year, no matter how hard we work, we will be able to see only about 65% of the children and young people referred to us. And we don’t yet know if we will be funded next year.

I get so frustrated not being able to see everyone. We sometimes need to extend the eight sessions a child gets, because they need the extra time, but I always have to think about who else may be waiting for our help.

I’m really proud of what we do, with limited resources. In some areas, we are the only specialist service helping children and young people deal with the emotional pressures that can arise from domestic violence.

We only see the tip of the iceberg, a small percentage of those who need help, but if those children grow up stronger and have happier relationships, we’ve made a difference.

This series aims to give a voice to the staff behind the public services that are hit by mounting cuts and rising demand, and so often denigrated by the press, politicians and public. If you would like to write an article for the series, contact kirstie.brewer@theguardian.com

Sign up for your free Guardian Public Leaders newsletter with comment and sector views sent direct to you every month. Follow us: @Guardianpublic

Looking for a job in central or local government, or need to recruit public service staff? Take a look at Guardian Jobs.