Local authorities are ambitious about improving outcomes for children but our ability to do this is being compromised by a 50 per cent reduction in our budgets since 2010 whilst at the same time more children and families are in need of help with increasingly complex needs. We also estimate that over 100 new statutory duties have been placed on local authorities since 2011, many of which are woefully underfunded. No one can underestimate how hard we have worked to minimise the impact of cuts on children and their families by reshaping and remodelling services and making efficiencies but cuts to vital, preventative services that keep children and families together and prevent future demand have had to be made. This is not in children's best interests nor is it the right thing to do, but without proper funding we are left with little choice. We need long-term, sustainable funding for children's services which enables us to invest in both statutory child protection and early help services at the same time.
With the growing pressures facing children's services in mind, I like many others, waited for the Budget on Monday with a mixture of hope and apprehension. Would there be anything for children's services, providing some respite from years of under-investment and crippling cuts? What, if anything, would there be for schools? And would there be any recognition of increasing pressures on SEND and high needs budgets?
The Chancellor announced £400 million for schools to spend on the ‘little extras', £410 million in 2018/19 for adult and children's social care and £84 million over five years for 20 local authorities with high numbers of children in care, amongst other things. (More was announced for potholes!) Although any additional investment in services for children and young people is to be welcomed, it falls short of the sort of long-term investment in children that we would like to see and in some ways shows a failure to recognise the extent of the pressures facing schools and local authorities; the omission of SEND or high needs funding from the announcement, one of the biggest financial risks to our budgets, was of particular concern.
There is not enough money in the system to meet the level of need that exists, and we are becoming increasingly concerned at the government's current approach to funding children's services. Small, one off pots of time limited funding is not the answer to the problems we face. Earlier this week, the Early Intervention Foundation published a report on early intervention which supports this view, it clearly stated that ‘small, short-term, single-issue funding pots from national government' are unhelpful in comparison to the benefits of long term funding for services. The mounting evidence for strategic, long-term investment in children's futures needs to be listened to, and soon.
Next week ADCS will publish the sixth phase of its Safeguarding Pressures research which will sit alongside a growing body of evidence illustrating the increasing pressures on children's services. Clearly, we can't go on as we are, a country that works for all children must invest in children and families and we will continue to work hard to make this case to the Treasury ahead of next year's spending review.
Stuart Gallimore is president of the ADCS and DCS in East Sussex. This blog first appeared on the ADCS website