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Spending Review needs to restore lost £1.7 billion in early help funding for councils

Local authorities are preparing for a surge in demand for children’s services after many children ‘disappeared’ from view during the lockdown restrictions introduced in a bid to try and prevent the spread of the Coronavirus.

The Local Government Association said councils are bracing themselves for a rise in referrals for support that would have normally been made when children were being seen regularly by social workers and health workers.

Cllr Judith Blake, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “If we are to avoid families falling into crisis and causing long-term damage to the prospects of children and young people, the Spending Review needs to ensure councils have enough funding to reinvest in the preventative services that children, young people and families need, as soon as they need it – and before problems escalate and reach crisis point.”

WillisPalmer has been warning that once children returned to school, there could be a rise in referrals, given many children were out of education and the sight of teachers and other children’s services professionals such as social workers for over six months. As a result, WillisPalmer launched a Children’s Charter urging the government to fund schools and children’s services to ensure they had the resources to cope with any difficulties arising in children following lockdown.

The LGA warns that some children and families will need significant interventions, including child protection plans or even coming into the care system. Others will just need some extra help to get through a difficult period, which could incorporate low level mental health support, sessions with a youth worker, understanding how to support children showing behavioural difficulties, or working through parental conflict.

However, the Early Intervention Grant has been reduced by the government by almost two-thirds – down from £2.8 billion in 2010/11 to £1.1 billion in 2018/19. As a result, many children’s services departments have been forced to cut back the universal and early help services, such as children’s centres and family support services, that can help tackle and prevent emerging problems before they reach crisis point.

The Association has published ‘A child-centred recovery’, calling for the Spending Review to restore the lost £1.7 billion in funding to councils, to enable councils to reinstate some of these lost services which can help all children, young people and families to thrive.

Local authorities are expecting a rise in referrals for increased family, child and adolescent support as the COVID-19 pandemic enters a second phase and amid increased lockdown measures introduced across the country this week.

These referrals could be as a result of:

  • physical and domestic abuse, which have soared during lockdown
  • isolation
  • young carers taking on even more responsibility
  • mental health challenges
  • job losses
  • alcohol and drug misuse problems
  • bereavement as a result of the pandemic.

Concerns have also been raised that young people may be worst affected by pandemic-related job losses, and around young people becoming more vulnerable and being drawn into youth violence, county lines drug activities or criminal exploitation.

The LGA says the number of children in care has been rising each year and could increase further as a result of COVID-19. It is also warning that the impact of the virus may fall harder on disadvantaged children, who are likely to need even more support.

A lack of investment in early help services will lead to much greater costs to the public purse as problems escalate and become far more severe, the Association warns. Children should be at the heart of policy and decision-making to ensure every child can thrive, with local safety nets properly resourced and well organised.

The LGA is urging the government to work with councils and providers to increase the availability of placements for looked-after children and young people to ensure that suitable placements are available to meet their needs.

Cllr Judith Blake, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “Children’s services were already under strain prior to the pandemic, but those pressures have been exacerbated by COVID-19 and these services are now even more crucial to help families get through difficult periods. Funding to meet increased demand for child protection and children in care services is also vital.

“Support for significant interventions, including child protection plans and children entering the care system, will be needed, alongside proper investment in both children’s mental health services, which are under enormous strain, and vital youth services to help a generation hit hard during the crisis.

“The government’s review of the children’s care system needs to begin as soon as possible, but we want to work with ministers ahead of this on increasing provision for care placements so councils can continue to best support and protect our most vulnerable children,” she concluded.

Jenny Coles, ADCS President, said: “There are some important messages for government in this new report from the Local Government Association, in particular the need for children to be at the heart of recovery planning. We share concerns raised about the impact of Covid-19 on children and families, particularly the most vulnerable and significant cuts to funding for early intervention and preventative services. Before the pandemic, children’s services were dangerously close to becoming a ‘blue light’ service, too many children and families were unable to get the support they needed when they needed it and were reaching crisis point as a result. Covid-19 is creating a perfect storm of extra challenges for children, families and the services supporting them, and we anticipate significant increases in demand are just around the corner, when the hidden harms of the past seven months become apparent just as the economic downturn begins to bite.”

“This report underlines the need for government to properly resource children’s services as we gear up to support more children and families recover from the impact of the pandemic in addition to those we were already supporting. We need and want to be able to support children and families who need it but without more funding from government further cuts to vital services will be necessary. Funding children’s services on a shoestring budget is not the right thing to do, nor is it a smart economic policy. How can we ‘build back better’ as a country without investing in our future, in our children and the full range of services they rely on today,” Ms Coles added.

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