It's time to shout about children's services funding crisis

By Enver Solomon

| 18 May 2017

Under the radar of the daily noise of the election campaign the country's council leaders have sent out the starkest warning yet about the state of services for vulnerable children.

Alison Michalska, president of the Association of Directors of Children's Services, could not have put it more bluntly, telling a national newspaper: "Local authorities have worked hard to make savings, but we are running out of options." Richard Watts, chair of the Local Government Association's (LGA) children and young people's board, was equally direct: "Services caring for and protecting vulnerable children are now, in many areas, being pushed to breaking point."

The LGA has calculated that there will be a £2 billion shortfall by the end of the decade. Virtually the same as the shortfall in adult social care which will be £2.3 billion. Clearly the anxiety levels among council leaders have risen. They fear the tipping point has come.

It's not difficult to see why. Demand is rising and resources are dwindling at an alarming rate. Councils have tried to do more with less, and have accepted that they should look at new forms of service configuration, but have clearly concluded that there is no hiding from the fact that money matters and the lack of it is now biting harder than ever before.

Making a noise about the children's social care crisis is long overdue. Unlike in adult social care where the voices across the voluntary and statutory sector have been speaking up for some time, in children's social care there appears to have been more self-censoring about the impact of funding cuts. Consequently, our politicians have not been pushed to acknowledge what's going on. They know about and recognise the crisis in adult social care but not in children's social care.

Over the last year, NCB has coordinated the all party parliamentary group for children's inquiry into children's social care which explicitly sought to raise the issue in parliament. The inquiry found that resources were so stretched nine out of 10 councils were struggling to meet their legal duties under s17 of the Children's Act and that early help and early support services were being greatly reduced. The chair, Conservative MP and former children's minister, Tim Loughton, made clear that "the government must address the funding crisis engulfing children's social care, and in particular the lack of resource for preventative and early intervention services".

Pressure on services is set to increase even further in coming years, due to rising child poverty, and more children are living with severe disabilities. It's now time for all of us across the children's sector to get together and loudly take this message to the new government and parliament. It must be our number one priority. If we don't act the crisis will deepen and ultimately the vulnerable children and families we all care about so much will lose out.

Enver Solomon is director of external affairs, NCB

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