The Chancellor's Autumn Statement on Wednesday is one of his last big official announcements before the start of the general election campaign next year. With it he has a chance to set a bold direction for government spending so that it delivers more for the most vulnerable children and families.
Public services are currently weighed heavily toward delivering last minute fixes for long running problems. This approach means that more children and families are reaching crisis point, putting more pressure on them and the services trying to provide support - this is not sustainable.
We urgently need to start realising the possibilities of services that act early to transform our approach to supporting families. They can offer people a real lifeline to develop the confidence and skills to help children and families to thrive. This can include making sure parents-to-be learn how to look after their baby, people can talk about their emotional wellbeing, and children get guidance through big changes in their life, like starting school. Supporting parents early can also contribute to preventing and reducing child neglect.
These individual activities need to be part of a larger structure so that people can get assistance promptly and consistently.
As it stands, councils and the services they fund have to work to short term spending plans, often two years or less. This means that there is little room for stability and the programmes for families often change. Short-term planning also makes it harder to build up relationships with families who need regular contact to build trust over a long period to overcome any problems they face.
The Chancellor could make a huge difference by leading a longer term approach to spending on early support services. With spending commitments over a five year period, local councils and services for young people could make longer-term plans.
With more stability, projects and staff will have the chance to work with the same families over time. We know that the relationship between workers and families really matter and can make a big difference to improving long-term outcomes.
At Action for Children we see the strain that families are under. When we recently spoke to professionals working with young people, nine in ten of them said that mental health issues among children were the same or worse than last year and more than half of them reported a rise in parental depression.
Our experience also shows us that early help can make a big difference. For example, our family therapy services in Essex and Derby repair relationships and keep children living at home safely rather than going into care, saving families from heartbreak and saving the local authority hundreds of thousands in residential care costs. Our Impact Report is full of similar evidence.
We can't go on just trying to cope with the effects of problems, we need real commitment to preventing them or reducing them early. Without this, we will continue wasting young people's potential, and wasting money that would have been better spent earlier.