ADCS chief: Cuts to early help services 'inevitable'

By Joe Lepper

| 22 August 2018

Early help services for vulnerable children and families face deep cuts in the coming year unless the government provides extra funding for councils, the president of the Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS) has warned.

Stuart Gallimore is calling for more funding for children's services or a "statement of intent" from government that more will be coming

ADCS president Stuart Gallimore told CYP Now he has been left frustrated by a lack of action by government to address the mounting financial crisis facing children's social care.

He says that local authorities have already scaled back spending on children's services, but with most councils needing to find further savings the only area left to cut is early help and prevention.

Such cuts will heighten the risk of children being taken into care and result in increased social care, health and youth justice spending in the long term, warns Gallimore.

"All of the easy things - the efficiencies, the restructures, the de-layering - have been done," said Gallimore.

"The only place you are left to go, where you have increased demand coming into the care system and the safeguarding pressures, is the world of early help.

"You end up targeting the very services that you know address the root causes of the problem."

He added: "This is the inevitable situation most authorities are left in."

Gallimore is calling on the government to increase children's social care funding or at the very least put forward "a statement of intent" that extra money will soon be available. This would ensure councils can carry on committing to funding early support, he adds.

However, he says he is frustrated that ministers are not reacting to a wide range of evidence about the worsening financial situation in children's services.

This includes Local Government Association calculations that by 2020, there will be a £2bn funding gap in children's services.

Gallimore said: "The frustration is that no one piece or overall piece [of evidence of funding problems] seems to be landing.

"There is a real worry that the money either comes too late or is too little, too late. You have to take steps year-on-year to get the services into a balanced position.

"It would be immensely frustrating if we were to stop a whole bunch of services that make a difference in the lives of children and families only in 12 months' time to suddenly get the money. What we need from government is a statement of intent (that extra money will be available).

"At the moment we get no statement, just keep getting pushed back.

"We do see other government departments receiving in-year sums of money to address emerging problems outside of that budget round. We are in the position where we need that signal of intent, in prioritising children, that we believe should be there."

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Gallimore, director of children's services at East Sussex County Council, has calculated that his authority could be facing a budget deficit of £46m by 2021/22 unless further government funding is made available.

A review of early help for vulnerable children was launched earlier this summer by the council, which will inform the 2019/20 budget.

"We are doing a wholesale review of our early help services. We are doing that in terms of making sense of what difference do those services make, where are they currently being deployed and how much are we spending on them," said Gallimore.

Earlier this month, Northamptonshire County Council announced it was considering "radical" cuts to services, including those for vulnerable children, in a bid to save up to £70m in 2018/19.

In June, Office for National Statistics figures showed that council spending on children's services is rising at a faster rate than any other council area, with expenditure this year expected to increase by £542m.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "We want every child to have the best start in life, with the opportunities and the stability to fulfil their potential, which is why we have made £200 billion available to councils up to 2020 for local services including those for children and young people.

"We also provide a further £270 million for councils to develop improvements in their service and create innovative programmes to improve the lives of these vulnerable children."

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