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Give children a better start in social care, charities urge Conservative leadership hopefuls

19 July 2022

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CHILDREN’s charities have called on the remaining candidates for the Conservative Party leadership and No. 10 to prioritise early-intervention social care for children. A report published on Tuesday reveals that funding has halved in the past decade.

In the same period, 2010-11 to 2020-21, the number of children in local-authority care rose by almost one quarter.

The charities — the Children’s Society, Action for Children, Barnardo’s, the National Children’s Bureau, and the NSPCC — commissioned the report, Stopping the Spiral: Children and young people’s services spending 2010-11 to 2020-21, from Pro Bono Economics. “The care system is failing children and young people,” it concludes.

And the situtation is worsening, it says: if current trends continue, 100,000 children will be in care by 2032, and this will almost double the financial burden on already overstretched local councils.

The Children’s Society’s chief executive, Mark Russell, said: “Behind these shocking figures, which saw spending on services for young people fall by three-quarters (74 per cernt) from £1.3 billion to £300 million, are children who have missed out on vital early support, many of whom end up in care.”

The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, which issued its final report in May, called for a “radical reset” of the system, and the prioritising of earlier interventions.

The Pro Bono Economics report, endorsing this view, cites research that has found that 80 per cent of local-authority spending is on late-intervention services, such as support for care leavers and fostering fees.

Early-intervention services, however, seek to prevent problems or address them before they become fixed. Because such services are rarely a statutory requirement, they are likely to be cut first when budgets are tightened. Cuts to Sure Start centres are given as an example of this.

While investment in early intervention shrank, local-authority spending on late-intervention services rose by 37 per cent between 2010-11 and 2020-21. The overall proportion spent on late intervention has, therefore, increased in ten years from 58 per cent in 2010-11 to 80 per cent.

The report also reveals regional disparities, in which the north and Midlands have suffered larger cuts in early-intervention services.

Mr Russell described it as a “big concern that children in deprived areas, where needs may be greatest, are often among those least likely to get help before problems spiral out of control. If ministers are serious about Levelling Up, they must better target funding to the areas that need it most.”

The coalition of charities is calling on the Government to invest a minimum of £2.6 billion in children’s social care: the figure set out in the Independent Review. Such funding needs to be targeted and ring-fenced to ensure that early-intervention services are rebuilt, the charities say.

“Councils everywhere have struggled amid government funding cuts,” Mr Russell said, “and this is why we are calling on whoever becomes the next Prime Minister to ensure children’s-services teams across the country get the extra funding they desperately need — sooner, not later.”

Questions about children’s social care have not, so far, played a prominent part in the debates between the candidates.

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