POLITICS
31/10/2017 02:34 GMT

Children In Need Left Behind As Councils Face 'Financial Brink'

Local authorities cannot cope with rise in demand as Sure Start Centres disappear.

Councils buckling under the strain of austerity are failing children in need, a survey of frontline politicians has revealed.

The National Children’s Bureau’s (NCB) poll of lead members for children’s services shows demand, including from youngsters “at considerable risk”, has steadily grown and cash-strapped local authorities no longer have the means to cope. 

The new NCB study of councils’ lead members for children’s services found: 

  • Over a third (36%) don’t have the money to help children in care 

  • A majority - 66% - don’t have enough money to keep children’s centres or youth clubs open

  • One in four (41%) feel the council can no longer meet its statutory duty to every child 

  • Nearly one in three (30%) lack the resources to support children with protection plans. 

It comes after a Local Government Association study found councils had clocked up a £605m overspend last year, while the number of young people subject to child protection inquires had increased by 140% – to 170,000 – over the past decade.

More than 350 Sure Start centres have also closed their doors since 2010, with spending on the early years centres 47% less in real terms in 2015/16. 

But the Government is under pressure to do more to protect frontline children’s services, after a Survation study last week found more than half (53%) of Tory councillors now oppose cutbacks.

Andrew Gwynne in Parliament
Shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary Andrew Gwynne has called for an immediate uplift in funding for children's services

Speaking in Parliament, Andrew Gwynne, Shadow Secretary for Communities and Local Government, said cutbacks were “failing children” and councils were now “in crisis”. 

Anna Feuchtwang, NCB chief executive, said: “It’s becoming increasingly clear that across England local authorities are struggling to meet the needs of children and young people, including those at considerable risk.

“We should be stepping in to help these children as early as possible, but with two-thirds of lead members saying they have insufficient resources to provide universal services, prevention and early help are falling by the wayside, as councils are forced to prioritise funds for those closest to crisis.

“Strikingly, half of lead members responsible for children’s services linked growing pressure on services with poverty, illustrating the impact of deprivation on children. It’s clear that demand is growing for other reasons too, including cuts to other services and more children living with complex disabilities.

“Central Government must take action so that families can access the help they need when they need it. This starts with an immediate funding injection for children’s services, additional resources to tackle mental health problems, and better data sharing.” 

Gwynne called for ministers to take action before the budget next month. 

Speaking during a session when MPs could put questions to ministers, he said: “Across swathes of England, children’s services are now in crisis. Seven years of government funding cuts to services supporting families is failing children and driving councils to the financial brink.”

He went on: “When will the minister admit that there is a growing emergency in children’s social care and finally take some action ahead of the budget to deal with this major crisis for councils now.” 

PA Archive/PA Images
Local Government Minister Marcus Jones said the Government was examining how to better support councils

Local Government Minister Marcus Jones said that over £200bn had been given to local government to “support local services”, adding: “Children’s services and early intervention are amongst that funding stream.

“What I would also say to him is that we are also aware of the challenges in many areas in providing children’s services and safeguarding and this government continually looks at how we can support local authorities in this regard.” 

When quizzed as to why demand was growing, 50% of the councillors said it was due to increased levels of poverty and hardship, while 45% said cuts to other services for families, such as housing support, were a contributing factor.

Nearly a quarter (24%) said that rising levels of abuse and neglect was one of the reasons behind the increase in demand. 

A third (36%) said it was in part due to professionals getting better at spotting the signs of a child in urgent need.