Huge cuts in funding for early support for children have created a “vicious cycle”, with thousands more young people going into care and needing crisis help, according to a new report backed by some of the UK’s biggest children’s charities.
As Sure Start centres, youth clubs and family support services for substance abuse have shut down, children and teenagers told the report’s authors they felt they had to “get hurt or harm someone” before they could get help.
And the report found that the poorest areas of the country have been hit hardest as spending on early intervention services was halved by councils in England from £3.8bn to £1.9bn between 2010-11 and 2020-21.
With a succession of Conservative-led governments slashing central funding to local authorities in England by around 40 per cent over the past 12 years, many town halls have responded by cutting services which they are not required by law to deliver, such as early intervention support for children.
But spending on statutory crisis services soared by more than a third (37 per cent) from £6bn to £8.2bn over the same period, as numbers of children in care leapt by 24 per cent to almost 80,000.
The report, entitled Stopping the Spiral, found that this has created a vicious cycle, where councils are forced to spend more on costly crisis support, leaving more children and young people exposed to risks like exploitation, neglect and mental ill-health.
Today’s research by Pro Bono Economics found that four-fifths (80 per cent) of local authority children’s social care spending now goes towards crisis and late intervention services, which are more likely to be reacting to harm rather than preventing it and which councils have a legal requirement to deliver, up from just 58 per cent in 2010-11.
The report, for the Children’s Society, NSPCC, Action for Children, Barnardo’s and the National Children’s Bureau, followed a warning from the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care that 100,000 children will be in care by 2032 on current trends, pushing the bill for crisis services up higher.
The coalition of charities called for the new prime minister to use his or her first Budget to invest at least an additional £2.6bn in children’s social care, as recommended by the independent review.
Children’s Society chief executive Mark Russell said: “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. But councils everywhere have struggled amid government funding cuts and this is why we are calling on whoever becomes the next prime minister to ensure children’s services teams across the country get the extra funding they desperately need, sooner not later.”
Imran Hussain, director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, said: “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.”
Responding to the report, the independent review’s chair Josh MacAlister said: “These worrying figures support my call for a radical reset of the system to shift the focus towards intensive earlier support for families.
“It’s crucial that reform comes with the investment needed to boost support for families so that more children can grow up in loving families and that the care system can provide the same foundations.
“Tinkering at the edges while continuing to pour money into a crumbling system is unsustainable and it’s vital that the next prime minister seizes this opportunity to make a difference to the lives of children and families, now and in the future.”
Labour’s shadow minister for children, Helen Hayes, said: “A decade of Conservative governments has stripped away the early help services that children and families rely on, with increasing numbers being taken into care.
“Instead of warring amongst themselves the Conservatives should be focused on delivering for the country: tackling a national culture which has tolerated failing services for our children and rise to the challenge of making Britain the best place to grow up.”
Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Munira Wilson described the report as “yet another damning example of how our children are simply not a priority for the Conservatives”.
“Vulnerable children across the country are being left facing a perfect storm as funding for support is slashed while the cost of living crisis bites,” said Ms Wilson.
“Liberal Democrats are calling on this morally bankrupt government to finally support the next generation by giving local authorities more than the pittance they currently receive to help children before they end up in dangerous situations.”
A government spokesperson said: “We have made an additional £3.7bn available to councils this year alone to help them deliver key services and support families.
“We are backing families with better and earlier access to services that keep them safe and healthy, by expanding a network of Family Hubs all over England and increasing investment in the Supporting Families programme, which is helping to keep up to 300,000 families together safely and provide loving homes for children. This comes ahead of widescale reform to the care system through our response to the independent review of children’s social care.”