Cuts to early years and youth support since 2010 has resulted in more than a million vulnerable children having their life chances reduced, according to a report by the Public Services Committee.
A failure to invest in children at risk of harm has affected over one million children, with those in deprived areas being worst affected. This has resulted in worse life chances for vulnerable children and increased pressures on children’s services.
Chair of the Committee Baroness Armstrong said: “We face a crisis in child vulnerability which needs urgent action.
“Too often public services can’t help children before it’s too late. Too many children fall through the gaps, go into care, are excluded from school or end up in prison – all of which costs the public purse more in the long run,” she added.
Research by Pro Bono Economics for the committee found that spending on early intervention support in areas of England with the highest levels of child poverty fell by 53 per cent between 2010 and 2019. This includes:
The committee is urging the government to return to higher 2010 levels of investment in early help services to support children and families. A cross-government funded national strategy for a nationwide roll-out of Family Hubs should be implemented.
The government’s pledge to spend £492 million on early help services over the next three years is welcome. However, following a decade of underinvestment this would not repair the creaking public services infrastructure on which vulnerable children rely, or make up for the £1.7 million-a-year cuts to council services such as Sure Start centres and family support since 2010.
The Spending Review commitment to fund a small number of Family Hubs in only half of local authority areas will not compensate for the closure of children’s centres and falls “far short” of the vision set out in its own Early Years review, chaired by Dame Andrea Leadsom, which recommended that all families should be able to access a Hub.
A survey of almost 200 public service professionals found that half had seen a rise in the number of children and families requesting help with mental ill-health, domestic violence and addiction problems since the start of the pandemic.
Furthermore, a lack of coordination by government and regulators has undermined the ability of local services to work together effectively, intervene early and share information to keep vulnerable children safe and improve their lives, according to the committee.
Statutory agencies have also failed to engage the voluntary sector or listen to service users when designing and delivering public services.
Baroness Armstrong added: “We’re pleased that the government is supporting some areas to develop Family Hubs but it now needs to commit to a national roll-out, with the most deprived communities given priority, to help vulnerable children and their parents. Effective early intervention services could reduce the role of the state in family life by supporting parents to meet their children's needs.
“The government talks a lot about ‘levelling up’ so to start with it should restore funding for early intervention to 2010 levels and ministers must match their stated ambition on child vulnerability with urgent action to improve the life chances of disadvantaged children,” she added.
Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said: “This important report is a stark reminder of the challenges councils face supporting and protecting vulnerable children.
“Funding announced by the government in the Spending Review to invest in children’s health and wellbeing and parenting support was helpful. However, with spiralling demand on children’s social services and future cost pressures in children’s social care set to increase by an estimated £600 million each year until 2024/25, councils still find themselves in the unsustainable position of having to overspend their budgets.
“Councils want to work with government on a child-centred, cross-government pandemic recovery plan which offers the very best future for children and families. This would need to be supported by the right level of funding to enable councils to provide the early intervention and prevention support to stop children reaching crisis point in the first place,” she concluded.