THE BLOG

Funding Early Help Can Reduce The Number Of Children Going Into Care

13/10/2017 16:28

Every child deserves to grow up in a safe, happy home as they negotiate what can seem a daunting world - especially during their teenage years with all the challenges of school, exams and peer pressure.

But for an increasing number of children, sadly, life at home can itself pose risks as parents fail to provide the care they deserve, often because they are struggling to cope with their own issues.

New figures this week showed that a record 72,670 children are in care in England and Wales, with 90 children being placed with foster carers or in residential care homes every day.

That is shocking, but it came as little surprise to us at The Children's Society given our research and our frontline support both for children in care, and for vulnerable children outside of the care system.

Through this work we see rising levels of need at every level. We know that between 2010 and 2016 there was a 5% rise in the number of children assessed by social workers as being 'in need' - meaning their health and development was likely to be harmed without support from statutory services.

Our latest Good Childhood Report also showed how issues experienced by parents like debt, mental health, domestic abuse and substance misuse are taking their toll on children's happiness.

Children's homes and foster placements offer vital support for children who are unable to live with their parents. However, we would all much rather children were able to grow up in a safe and stable family setting. In some situations this may be possible even when parents are experiencing real challenges in their lives if they receive timely support from local services.

However, it is increasingly difficult for councils to provide this help, since at the same time as demand is increasing funding is falling. The Local Government Association estimates that local authority children's services departments face a £2bn funding shortfall by 2020.

Funding for early interventions to prevent the development of more severe difficulties is under particular pressure. Over the course of the current decade early intervention funding is expected to have fallen by 71% in real terms, and we have already seen cuts to vital services like Sure Start, parenting programmes and youth groups.

We recognise that there will be situations in which no matter how much help is provided to a family, a care placement may still end up being in a child's best interests. However, when that happens, the funding gap facing councils also makes it harder for them to provide the best possible support for vulnerable children.

We know that while there is some really good support out there for children in care, this can vary hugely across the country.

For example, these vulnerable children can be at particular risk of going missing, with all the risks that brings, and nearly half of children in care experience mental ill health. But they do not always get the help they need to prevent them going missing, for instance, or when they return home.

Of course, money is not the only answer. Good training and an awareness of the issues is crucial too. With the current funding pressures, it is more important than ever for councils to work closely with agencies including police, health services and the voluntary sector to ensure children in care get the support they need.

However, it is vital that this is backed up by a pledge of new investment in children's services by the Government in the forthcoming Autumn Budget.

Providing this funding now will help councils support families before problems spiral out of control.

If we don't invest to prevent the escalation of such problems, in the longer-term the costs of looking after a child in care and dealing with issues facing them and their families are likely to be much greater.

But above all, this commitment will give children the best possible chance of a safe and fulfilling upbringing - whether this in in their family home or a supportive care placement which meets their needs.

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