Children’s services leaders have responded to claims made yesterday by a group of children’s charities that they are ill-prepared for the pressures they will face post lockdown.
Years of under-investment have resulted in children’s services fire-fighting and unprepared for the “torrent of extra challenges” posed by COVID-19, the charity’s Barnardo’s. Action for Children, The Children’s Society, NSPCC and the National Children’s Bureau found.
Barnardo’s Chief Executive Javed Khan said: “Even before the lockdown children were facing growing challenges, from knife crime and gangs, to cyberbullying and online grooming. Now there is a new wave of ‘hidden’ children, falling into poverty, experiencing domestic abuse and tipping the existing crisis in mental health into catastrophe.
“We know there will be a massive increase in demand for support, with the effects of the pandemic felt for years to come. But the overstretched system cannot cope, and the government must step in to fund vital early intervention services, so families get the help they need before reaching crisis point,” he added.
The charities warn that children’s services are in a Catch 22 situation because, while they know the best long-term option is to invest in early intervention services, like children’s centres and youth workers, they cannot afford to do this. Instead they are spending a greater proportion of available funding on children in crisis.
However, with a “crippling spike” in demand expected following lockdown, as the true extent of the devastation caused by the pandemic becomes apparent, children’s charities are deeply concerned how these already overstretched services will cope after the coronavirus crisis.
The charities fear that there are many children and families, ‘hidden’ from the view of professionals during the lockdown, who could slip through the cracks and reach crisis point before any intervention is provided.
WillisPalmer has been raising concerns for weeks that lockdown is masking many serious issues such as abuse, neglect, domestic abuse and exacerbating mental ill health.
Chair of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services’ Resources and Sustainability Policy Committee, Matt Dunkley, said the analysis clearly sets out the challenges that children’s services departments are facing.
“Before Covid-19 children’s services were overstretched and woefully underfunded with councils having to use reserves or divert money away from other valued services to balance their budgets, this is unsustainable. The pandemic is storing up future financial and demand pressures for us and we must ensure children do not pay the heaviest price.
“Local authorities remain committed to meeting the needs of children and young people who need our help, support and protection, but we are very concerned about our capacity to deal with the surge of demand we expect to see once lockdown restrictions begin to ease. Some children and families will be presenting with new needs that we will have to respond to, others who were already showing signs of distress will be facing additional challenges as a result of Covid-19. We are also worried about the sustainability of our few remaining early help and preventative services that prevent children from reaching crisis point and reduce demand.
“We welcome recent emergency funds from the government to local authorities, but it is not enough. ADCS continues to call for a sufficient and sustainable multi-year funding settlement for children’s services that enables us to invest properly in children’s futures, including in the provision of early help. If nothing else the pandemic underlines the need to invest in prevention and help minimise risks early, children and families deserve more than just the bare minimum levels of resourcing and support,” he concluded.