As councils anticipate a significant rise in demand for children’s services, the Local Government Association (LGA) has called for the restoration of £1.7bn of funding which has been siphoned out of local authority budgets for these services over the past decade.
Since 2010/11, when the value was sat at around £2.8bn, funding for the Early Intervention Grant has been cut by almost two-thirds – most recently being recorded at £1.1bn in 2018/19.
There are increased fears that as both Government and local authority budgets feel the strain from coronavirus, there may be further reductions too – right at the same time a surge in demand is anticipated for the services.
As such, the LGA has published a new report, entitled ‘A child-centred recovery’, which outlines why Government cuts to early intervention funding over the past decade must be urgently reversed.
The expectation is, as we emerge out of the pandemic, a significant number of children and young people requiring support will be referred to these services, as social and health workers work through a backlog of children who would have normally been assessed but who, due to exceptional circumstances with Covid-19 and necessary restrictions, have not yet had been engaged with or referred.
Some of these children and families will need significant interventions, including child protection plans or even coming into the care system.
For many though, they will just need some extra help to get through a difficult period. That could be low level mental health support, sessions with a youth worker, understanding how to support children showing difficult behaviours, or working through parental conflict.
In their report, the LGA, which represents councils across the country, called for the Spending Review to restore the lost £1.7bn in funding to councils. This would enable councils to reinstate some of these lost services which can help all children, young people and families to thrive.
The LGA said a lack of investment in early help services will lead to much greater costs to the public purse as problems escalate and become far more severe.
It reiterated its commitment that children needed to be at the heart of policy and decision-making to ensure every child can thrive, with local safety nets properly resourced and well organised.
Cllr Judith Blake, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “If we are to avoid families falling into crisis and causing long-term damage to the prospects of children and young people, the Spending Review needs to ensure councils have enough funding to reinvest in the preventative services that children, young people and families need, as soon as they need it – and before problems escalate and reach crisis point.
“Children’s services were already under strain prior to the pandemic, but those pressures have been exacerbated by Covid-19 and these services are now even more crucial to help families get through difficult periods. Funding to meet increased demand for child protection and children in care services is also vital.
“Support for significant interventions, including child protection plans and children entering the care system, will be needed, alongside proper investment in both children’s mental health services, which are under enormous strain, and vital youth services to help a generation hit hard during the crisis.
“The Government’s review of the children’s care system needs to begin as soon as possible, but we want to work with ministers ahead of this on increasing provision for care placements so councils can continue to best support and protect our most vulnerable children.”