Government must invest in children’s & youth services

Leading children’s charities and local councils have called on the Government to urgently close the funding gap facing children and young people’s services as new research reveals a sharp rise in families reaching “crisis point”.

An open letter signed by five major organisations warns that children’s social care is being pushed to breaking point, with a £2bn funding gap expected to open by 2020. It urges ministers to “step up” and use the Autumn Budget to invest in vital services in order to save youngsters from serious harm.

The signatories, which include Barnardo’s, Action for Children and the Local Government Association (LGA), state that between them they have “spent years warning successive governments that a failure to invest in these vital services will have long term consequences” for the UK’s children and families.

The letter, comes as a report by three leading children’s charities reveals “crippling” central government cuts have left councils with no option but to close services designed to detect early signs of child neglect and abuse – forcing them to direct to a “crisis” fire-fighting model.

Demand for crisis support for children has risen sharply as council spending on services that are designed to spot signs of neglect and abuse early has fallen by 40 per cent between 2010/11 and 2015/16, the report shows. Central government funding for children and young people’s services has seen a real terms decrease of £2.4bn in that period, while local authority allocations for these services has fallen by £1.6bn.

At the same time, there has been a 108 per cent increase in child protection investigations, as demand for council help soars.

The research, from The Children’s Society, Action for Children and the National Children’s Bureau, also reveals stark geographical discrepancies, with the most deprived councils in England having cut spending on children’s services by almost a quarter (23 per cent) – six times as much as the least deprived councils.

The open letter to ministers reads:

“Children’s social care is being pushed to breaking point, with an unprecedented surge in demand leaving services across the public, voluntary and community sector struggling to cope.

“We believe that all children deserve the chance of a bright future. That’s why we are uniting today to urge the Government to use the Autumn Budget to close the funding gap facing children’s services, which will reach at least £2bn by 2020.”

It states that the number of children needing child protection plans has nearly doubled over the past decade, and last year saw the largest annual increase in children in care since 2013. The organisations also highlight that local authorities overspent on children’s services by £365m in 2014/15 just to keep children safe, and a huge £605m the following year.

The letter adds:

“Our children and young people deserve better than the gradual decline of services – particularly those services that help children early – that have been shown to make a real difference to their lives”

“Councils and the voluntary sector are committed to getting the best for every child. Now we need the same commitment from our government, starting with urgent action through the Budget to give local services the resources they need to help children and families thrive.”

The number of young people subject to child protection enquires increased by 140 per cent – to 170,000 – in the past decade, according to research by the LGA earlier this year.

A separate study more recently revealed that benefit cuts and increased levels of poverty across the UK were the primary cause for this “unprecedented surge” in demand for children’s services, while a lack of resources to provide universal services like children’s centres and youth clubs also played a significant part.