Councils ‘failing’ on child services and prevention, report reveals

A new report commissioned by prominent children’s charities has revealed that councils in England are trapped in a concerning spending crisis regarding children’s services and social care.

The report, conducted by Pro Bono Economics, emphasizes that vulnerable children are primarily receiving assistance in emergency situations, with insufficient focus on preventative measures, despite increased spending over the years.

The report calls for substantial investment to enable local authorities to address current needs and shift their focus toward early intervention services. While the government introduced the “Stable Homes, Built on Love: strategy and consultation” in February, pledging £200 million over two years to enhance children’s social care, the report suggests that this may not be adequate to bridge the budgetary gaps in local authorities.

According to the analysis published in the Manchester Evening News, there is “almost universal acceptance that the current system is failing” and argued that the scale of investment promised by Government “is unlikely to be sufficient to plug gaps in local authority budgets, even when combined with expected further increases in local government spending power”.

The report underscores a significant decline in spending on early intervention services, such as Sure Start children’s centers, family support, and young people’s services, alongside a parallel increase in late interventions, including youth justice, child protection, and children in care.

The report stated:

“As recent history shows, councils may be left with little option other than to continue spending a growing proportion of their budgets on costly care placements.

Successfully transforming services will ultimately mean making available investment in early interventions, which will reduce demand for high-cost late intervention services.

In doing so, this will result in more families staying together in healthy environments, more children with stable and loving homes to grow up in, and fewer young people experiencing neglect, abuse, exploitation, and harm.”

The analysis highlights that additional spending of over £1.5 billion in the last five years has not resulted in a rebalancing of local government spending toward early intervention, nor has it reduced the demand for costly late intervention services or improved outcomes for children and families.

The report added:

“Instead, it has flowed along well-worn pathways towards high-cost services for children in care while demand has continued to rise and cost pressures have created a worsening doom-spiral of unsustainable spending for councils.”

The Children’s Society chief executive Mark Russell said: “The time is now for an urgent shift in children’s services. We’re firefighting a growing crisis in children’s social care that’s not only costlier but often misses delivering the best for children and their families.

This isn’t just about funding; it’s also about timely, effective care. Our children deserve proactive support, not just emergency responses when situations worsen.”

Paul Carberry, Action for Children chief executive, said:

“For years now, successive governments have forced councils to run children’s services like A&E units, where only those at serious risk of harm get help. Waiting for children to be exposed to harm hurts children and families, and burns a massive hole in council finances. This is simply unsustainable.

We need to rebalance children’s services so councils have the capacity to intervene earlier, support parents, protect children and keeps costs down.”

Louise Gittins, chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, has called for adequate funding for children’s services in the Chancellor’s autumn statement, citing a rising number of children in need of council support. She added:

“The funding announced in the Government’s children’s social care implementation strategy is helpful but falls short of addressing the £1.6 billion shortfall – estimated prior to inflation – required each year simply to maintain current service levels.”

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