21 October 2020

Local children’s services struggling to support most vulnerable, charities warn

Five leading children’s charities have called on the Treasury to invest more in local children’s services which are struggling to cope with the double impact of a decade of austerity and a pandemic.

Action for Children, Barnardo’s, the Children’s Society, NCB and the NSPCC have written to the Treasury ahead of the Comprehensive Spending Review warning of a children’s services funding crisis.

Local authorities were operating in 2018/19 with £2.2bn less funding for children than in 2010/11, the charities reported, and due to the coronavirus pandemic councils have had to spend an additional £136m on children’s social care between March and July.

On top of the immediate financial burden, the charities warned that there are signs that the pandemic has led to children being at greater risk of harm due to the increased economic and housing insecurity and stress at home.

There is also a risk of reduced oversight from professionals and other adults, and increased time online leaving some young people vulnerable.

The children’s charities say that now is the moment to make an investment in children’s social care that is sustainable; able to level up communities by distributing according to need; and delivered through a mechanism that will encourage early intervention.

Javed Khan, Barnardo’s chief executive, commented: ‘Even before the pandemic, too many vulnerable children were missing out on vital support. COVID-19 and the recession are driving many more families to breaking point, with mental health needs rising, growing numbers of children in poverty, and the prospect of even more children entering the care system. Particular groups of children, including those from Black, Asian and ethnic minority communities are at greatest risk.

‘This is why Barnardo's is delivering a Government-backed programme called See, Hear, Respond, in partnership with more than 80 other organisations, to respond quickly to the needs of young people and their families during the pandemic.

‘However, to achieve sustainable, lasting change for children, we need a longer-term funding commitment from the Government to invest in earlier intervention for families in need of help.

‘But we also need to spend those resources wisely. That’s why Barnardo’s is taking a radical new approach - working with national and local partners and investing our own resource to co-design and deliver services that change children’s lives, and the system around them, for the better.’

A Government spokesperson said: 'The safety and wellbeing of the most vulnerable children remains a priority. That’s why schools, nurseries and colleges remained open to them during the lockdown period and why we made it a priority for all children to return to the classroom full time as this is often the best place for them to be.

'We are supporting social workers and councils to manage any additional pressures, including by making £4.8bn available to councils including £3.7bn which is not ringfenced, and by increasing core spending power by over £2.9bn in 2020/21 even before emergency funding was announced.

'We’ve invested in increased capacity at the NSPCC helpline for anyone concerned about a child’s welfare, and our See, Hear, Respond charities’ partnership led by Barnardo’s is directly supporting thousands of vulnerable young people. We are also placing social workers in schools to support teachers to spot the signs of abuse and neglect more quickly.'

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