Charities call for Government to take action as overstretched children’s services face further pressure during pandemic

Kathy Oxtoby
Monday, November 2, 2020

Children’s charity leaders have submitted new analysis to the Treasury, revealing the scale of the crisis before and after the pandemic, and urging the Chancellor to focus on children in his one-year Spending Review.

The number of children subject to child protection plans is increasing.
The number of children subject to child protection plans is increasing.

Leading children’s charities have urged the Chancellor to ensure local authority children’s services receive urgent funding to help vulnerable young people through the pandemic and economic recession, before more families are driven to ‘breaking point’. 

New analysis from Action for Children, Barnardo’s, the Children’s Society, NCB and the NSPCC, submitted to the Treasury ahead of the anticipated one-year Comprehensive Spending Review on 25 November, reveals that even before the pandemic hit, these services were facing a funding crisis and had to spend an additional £136 million on children’s social care between March and July.

Before the outbreak, local authorities were operating in 2018/19 with over £2 billion less funding for children than in 2010/11, and their decreasing resource was affecting their ability to support and protect young people, the analysis showed.

Struggling system under unsupportable strain

The charities warned that coronavirus has placed an already struggling system under unsupportable strain. This is likely to worsen the trend in spending that has seen early intervention services – which aim to prevent situations from reaching a crisis point - lose 46 per cent of their funding over the last decade.

Javed Khan, Barnardo’s chief executive, said:‘Even before the pandemic, too many vulnerable children were missing out on vital support. Covid-19 and the recession are driving many more families to breaking point, with mental health needs rising, growing numbers of children in poverty, and the prospect of even more children entering the care system. Particular groups of children, including those from Black, Asian and ethnic minority communities are at greatest risk.

‘However, to achieve sustainable, lasting change for children, we need a longer-term funding commitment from the Government to invest in earlier intervention for families in need of help.’

There are also signs that the pandemic has led to children being at greater risk of harm because of increased economic and housing insecurity and stress at home, and reduced oversight from professionals due to lockdown.

Spending on safeguarding and children in care rose by 29 per cent since 2010/11. This is partly due to the cost of individual interventions soaring – spending-per-head for Looked After Children was £10,000 more per child since 2010/11 – and partly due to an increase in the number of children in care.

Twenty-two per cent more children were subject to child protection plans in 2018/19 than in 2010/11, which some local authorities connect to the lack of early intervention work to prevent problems escalating.

Anna Feuchtwang, chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau, said:Children’s services were already on the ropes from a steady succession of cuts, but they now have the extra demands on them brought on by the pandemic to cope with. We fear that this added pressure could push some councils over the edge.

‘In this context, the notion of intervening early to support children and families is being dropped, as services focus scarce resources on emergency cases.

‘The Government must step in and properly fund local authorities so they can reach out to children, young people and families before their problems escalate.’

The analysis revealed that since 2010/11, central government funding for local authorities with areas of high deprivation has fallen at twice the rate of those in the most affluent parts of England.

Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC, said: ‘A decade of under investment by central government meant local authorities across the country cut back on preventive and early intervention services while spending more on increasingly expensive care placements.

‘The crisis will dramatically worsen this unsustainable situation as the risks to children increase while the financial impact undermines local authority’s ability to respond, especially in more deprived areas that have already experienced greatest losses in funding.

‘The Chancellor must act decisively to rebuild the capacity of local areas to provide the crucial evidence based support services that will be fundamental to helping children recover from this crisis.’

These are also the areas where children are facing the greatest challenges, with high levels of unemployment, free school meal eligibility and domestic abuse.

The need, and poor financial situation of these authorities is likely to continue to deteriorate: it is the areas with significant levels of deprivation that are most likely to be vulnerable to ongoing disruption from the pandemic, the charities said.

Mark Russell, chief executive of The Children’s Society, said:‘These shocking findings tell us that the areas with the highest levels of children who need the support of social services are those where this help is most at risk owing to a decade of cuts.'

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