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Councils warn they will struggle to meet demand for children’s services post lockdown

Councils have admitted that they will struggle to cope with a surge in demand for children’s services following lockdown due to existing funding shortfalls.

The County Councils Network fear a rise in vulnerable children and troubled families needing support as a result of the Coronavirus lockdown. However existing funding shortfalls and additional costs of the pandemic means that local authorities may struggle to meet the demand.

Cllr Keith Glazier, County Councils Network spokesperson for children and young people, said: “Young people will not stop being neglected or abused during Coronavirus so we sadly expect a rise in cases once lockdown ends, especially with the emotional and economic impact of the virus on families. It is vital that we put in place robust plans to support all of the vulnerable children and families who will have seen a dramatic change in their circumstances during this unprecedented period.”

“However, with reductions in funding, rising demand and preventative services being reduced, children’s services face a perfect storm as we emerge from lockdown,” he added.

Last week, a group of children’s charities including Barnardo’s. Action for Children, The Children’s Society, NSPCC and the National Children’s Bureau warned that years of under-investment have resulted in children’s services fire-fighting and unprepared for the “torrent of extra challenges” posed by COVID-19.

Responding, 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," he said.

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. and that, for many vulnerable children, re-opening schools could be a lifeline.

Now, the analysis by the County Councils Network reveals that core government funding for children’s services has reduced by 35% – some £354m – since 2015/16. These reductions are higher than any other part of the country and came at the same time the costs of providing these services increased £600m over the same period.

Furthermore, on top of funding reductions before the outbreak, councils are having to contend with the increased costs of Coronavirus, with the 36 county authorities in CCN membership initially estimating a further £132m of costs will added to their children’s social care budgets this year.

Due to under-funding, children’s services have had to scale back their preventative services such as Sure Start to meet the demands of children at crisis point and most in need of intervention.

Councils are concerned that there are a number of children who need support – including those experiencing abuse and neglect – who are currently going unchecked because of the lockdown. With restrictions now beginning to ease, authorities are worried about a spike in children and families needing support due to a range of issues emerging from the crisis, and those going under councils’ radars due to the lockdown.

Financial hardship, children being out of school, social isolation, increased domestic abuse, dealing with deaths from the disease, and families relocating are all problems that could emerge due to Coronavirus – including many families who have not previously needed support, CCN warns.

They are calling on the government to cover all additional costs faced by councils in their children’s services departments as a result of the pandemic, ‘safeguard’ existing funding for troubled families and set out long-term sustainable funding for children’s services in this year’s planned Spending Review.

Cllr Keith Glazier added: “Preventative and early intervention services will help families back to their feet, so the government must help councils now to ensure that money for Troubled Families is available now to scale up family support services, rather than have these funds trapped at a central level due to the pause on bureaucratic form-filling, alongside additional funding for Coronavirus-related costs.

“This crisis hastens for the spending review to set out a long-term sustainable funding settlement for children’s services and work with councils to reform services so they are focused on prevention, rather than crisis management,” he concluded.

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