A report by the children’s charity into the barriers to early intervention services said that despite agreement at all levels of government that such provision was best, short- and medium-term thinking was holding back its development.
“Fundamentally, our political and funding structures are working against the collective desire to change the way we respond to the needs of vulnerable children and families,” said the report.
It recommended that central government sets out decade-long spending plans for children’s services that are agreed by all political parties.
This, the charity said, would provide local authorities with the stability they need to shift their services towards early intervention.
The report also proposed a series of steps that local authorities could take to develop early intervention approaches.
These included awarding long-term contracts to external service providers, using social impact bonds to fund the transition to early intervention and carrying out a one-off needs assessment to identify how a more preventative approach could affect demand for services.
Matthew Downie, head of campaigns and public affairs at Action for Children, said: “The short-term funding that is currently handed down to local authorities means that a children’s service has barely enough time to be set up and begin delivering support before its staff have to plan for reconfiguration or, even worse, face closure.
“This has a damaging effect on young people; many will have just learned to trust their key workers, only to suddenly find themselves with new people to work with, or with no help at all.”
Action for Children’s report was partially based on research it commissioned from the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) that examined what stops local authorities from doing more early intervention work.
The SCIE study identified tensions between councils’ long-term visions and strategies and meeting immediate needs as well as gaining support from elected members.
It also noted that some local authorities struggle to decommission underperforming services due to political sensitivities, historic council-provider relationships and a long-standing focus on outputs rather than outcomes.