Plea to reverse cuts in children’s early help spending

National charities call on new prime minister to prioritise early intervention spending, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

Children sit on a bench (credit Piron Guillaume via Unsplash)
Early intervention spending in Enfield fell by £14.6m in ten years (credit Piron Guillaume via Unsplash)

Enfield Council has cut spending on early help services for children by 57% following years of central government funding reductions, a new report reveals.

Early intervention spending by the council on initiatives such as children’s centres, youth clubs and tailored support for substance misuse fell by £14.6million in real terms between 2010/11 and 2020/21.

Alongside that came a 31% increase in late intervention spending such as support for children in care and child protection, which climbed by £10.2m.

According to the figures, total spending on the borough’s children’s services department fell by 13%, to £54m, during the ten-year period. Early intervention spending per child dropped by 59% to just £94.27.

The report, Stopping The Spiral, was commissioned by The Children’s Society, Action for Children, Barnardo’s, National Children’s Bureau and NSPCC, and is based on research by Pro Bono Economics. It reveals investment in early intervention support by councils in England fell from £3.8billion to £1.9bn during the ten-year period.

At the same time, government funding available to councils for children’s services is estimated to have dropped by 22%, from £10.4bn to £8.1bn, with the poorest local authority areas often forced to make the biggest cuts to early support services.

Meanwhile, national spending on crisis and late intervention services soared by more than a third, from £6bn to £8.2bn, which was driven by a 24% rise in the number of children in care.

The report warns of a “vicious cycle” in which councils are forced to spend more on crisis support, leaving more children and young people exposed to risks like exploitation, neglect and mental ill-health.

The charities are calling for the next prime minister to invest a minimum of £2.6bn in children’s social care, as recommended by the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care.

Imran Hussain, director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, said: “Across political divides there has been recognition of the value to communities and the public purse of investing in services that help individuals and families early, before more serious and more costly problems develop.

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“Town halls are being placed in an impossible position by decisions made in Whitehall. The government has to give local authorities the resources they need to invest in preventative services to stem the tide of children coming to harm before they’re helped.”

Since 2010, Enfield Council has found savings in its budget of £193m following successive reductions in the annual grant it receives from government, together with growing pressure on services. Despite the overall reduction in children’s services spending, schemes launched last year to support young people include a new building for Ponders End Youth Centre and a new early help strategy.

Abdul Abdullahi, the council’s cabinet member for children’s services, said: “Enfield Council has an unwavering commitment to do everything we possibly can to protect children and young people. We have invested in additional staff and services in response to a rising demand for child protection services in recent years.

“In fact, we have managed a cumulative increase in investment in children and family services since 2018, which has resulted in a number of transformational initiatives for the borough’s young people.

“In 2019, an Ofsted report said vulnerable children are well cared for and protected by Enfield Council, after awarding the local authority a ‘good’ rating, and the council invested an additional £600,000 in that year alone in children’s social services to increase the number of social workers supporting vulnerable young people and to improve standards of practice.

“While these initiatives help to support our children and young people, this council would welcome an urgent review of core funding for our support services so interventions can reach our most vulnerable residents as early as possible, to support their welfare and wellbeing fully.”

A government spokesperson said: “We have made an additional £3.7bn available to councils this year alone to help them deliver key services and support families.

“We are backing families with better and earlier access to services that keep them safe and healthy, by expanding a network of family hubs all over England and increasing investment in the supporting families programme, which is helping to keep up to 300,000 families together safely and provide loving homes for children. This comes ahead of widescale reform to the care system through our response to the independent review of children’s social care.”

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