The Government needs to invest money in children’s services to stop families reaching crisis point after coronavirus, a group of leading charities have warned.
In a joint report by Barnardo’s, the Children’s Society, Action for Children, the NSPCC and the National Children’s Bureau, the charities warned the pandemic will exacerbate existing problems in underfunded local authorities.
The charities said the Government must help local authorities invest in early intervention programmes as the demand for children’s services is expected to rise significantly.
They said as available funding for children’s services has fallen by £2.2 billion over the last decade, councils and local authorities in England had been unable to pay for early intervention service which help families before problems escalate.
They also warn that as councils are unable to intervene early due to budget issues, they are spending an increased proportion of their funding on children in crisis who require significant help, such as being taken into care.
The charities said many local authorities are unprepared for further demand on their services and may even miss some vulnerable children “hidden” by the lockdown.
Barnardo’s chief executive Javed Khan said: “We have long warned about the ‘perfect storm’ facing children’s social care, and the gap between demand and resource will widen further as a result of coronavirus.
“Even before the lockdown children were facing growing challenges, from knife crime and gangs, to cyberbullying and online grooming.
“Now there is a new wave of ‘hidden’ children, falling into poverty, experiencing domestic abuse and tipping the existing crisis in mental health into catastrophe.
“The overstretched system cannot cope, and the Government must step in to fund vital early intervention services, so families get the help they need before reaching crisis point.”
Early intervention services include children’s centres, youth workers and home-school liaisons, as well as preventative substance misuse and teenage pregnancy services.
Late intervention services primarily deal with children with a higher level of need, including youth justice and offending teams, provision for children in care in addition to safeguarding and child protection work.
The charities said between 2010/11 and 2018/19, local authority spending on early intervention services dropped by 46%.
However, local authority spending on late intervention has risen from 58% to 78% of spending on children and young people’s services in the same period.
The charities said the biggest increase in spending was seen on children in care, which rose by 40% from 2010/11 to 2018/19.
Local authorities currently manage by reallocating funds from other budgets, with spending falling by £536 million between 2010/11 and 2018/19.
One local authority staff member said: “What we can’t keep on doing is we’ve just kept on saying demand’s gone up again, so we need to find some money, we’ll use one off resources and then our savings target just keeps increasing.
“We can’t keep doing that you know year on year because the reserves will run out.”
A Government spokesman said: “We are giving councils an unprecedented package of support, including £3.2 billion emergency funding, to tackle the immediate pressures they have told us they’re facing.
“This is on top of English councils’ core spending power rising by over £2.9 billion this financial year.
“Keeping vulnerable children safe is our priority, which is why we have kept school places open for these children.
“We have also committed additional funding worth £26.4 million directly to charities to support them, as well as a £100 million devices and connectivity programme which will provide laptops so that children with social workers continue to receive care online.”