‘Vicious spiral’ means families missing out on help before reaching crisis point

·3-min read

A “vicious spiral” in spending on children’s services means those who are most in need of support are being “disproportionately denied” help before reaching crisis point, charities have warned.

The Children’s Services Funding Alliance said dwindling cash for early support services means families in England are not getting enough help before problems spiral out of control.

This has led to a vicious cycle where councils have to spend more on support further down the line, with more children exposed to risks such as exploitation and neglect, it says.

And it is the poorest areas that have been hardest hit, which is undermining the Government’s ambition to level up across the country.

The charities – The Children’s Society, Action for Children, Barnardo’s, National Children’s Bureau and the NSPCC – commissioned Pro Bono Economics to analyse local authority spending.

The research found there has been a steady increase in spending on children’s and young people’s services over the past four years, but it remains £249 million below 2010-11 levels.

Between 2010/11 and 2020/21, investment in early intervention support by councils in England fell from £3.8 billion to £1.9 billion (50%).

These services help families before problems escalate, such as providing support for substance misuse, help with babies, respite care, and young offender and crime prevention services.

The poorest local authority areas were often forced to make the biggest cuts to early support services,  the charities said, with the biggest falls in the West Midlands (down 66%) and North East (down 63%).

Over the same period, spending on crisis and late intervention services, which councils have a statutory responsibility to provide, rose by 37%, from £6 billion to £8.2 billion.

These include support for looked-after children and care leavers, adoption services, safeguarding services and youth justice provision.

The charities said the rise in late intervention spending is fuelled by a 24% rise in the number of children in care, and that areas with the biggest reductions in children’s services spending tend to see more older teenagers entering care.

They called for additional funding for areas where outcomes are likely to be the worst and the need is greatest.

Between 2010-11 and 2020-21, total spending on children and young people’s services fell by £241 million in the most deprived local authorities (a 10% decrease), while it rose by £228 million (13% increase) in the least deprived.

Mark Russell, chief executive of the Children’s Society, said: “Young people have told us they felt they needed to get hurt or harm someone in order be taken seriously.

“It’s a big concern that children in deprived areas, where needs may be greatest, are often among those least likely to get help before problems spiral out of control.

“If ministers are serious about levelling up they must better target funding to the areas that need it most.”

Imran Hussain, director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, added: “Across political divides there has been recognition of the value to communities and the public purse of investing in services that help individuals and families early, before more serious and more costly problems develop.

“Town halls are being placed in an impossible position by decisions made in Whitehall.

“The Government has to give local authorities the resources they need to invest in preventative services to stem the tide of children coming to harm before they’re helped.”

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