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Councils face £2 billion funding gap to support vulnerable children by 2020

Resources are being increasingly spent on children and families at crisis point

Pressures facing children's services are rapidly becoming unsustainable, with a £2 billion funding gap expected to open by 2020, the Local Government Association has said.

Local government leaders are calling on all political parties ahead of the General Election to commit to the life chances of children and young people by acting urgently to address this funding gap. This gap will continue to grow unless action is taken now to reduce the number of families relying on the children's social care system for support, the LGA warns.

Councils have faced an unprecedented surge in demand for support over recent years. The LGA says that it shows little sign of abating. More than 170,000 children were subject to child protection enquiries in 2015/16, compared to 71,800 in 2005/06 – a 140 per cent increase in just 10 years. The number of children on formal child protection plans increased by almost 24,000 over the same period.

Early intervention work with children and their families has long been recognised as a way of limiting the need for intensive support later down the line, and councils have worked hard to protect local funding for services that help families before the point that problems become more serious.

However, the association states, ongoing reductions to local authority budgets are forcing many areas to make extremely difficult decisions about how to allocate increasingly scarce resources. More often than not, resources are taken up by the provision of urgent support for the rising numbers of children and families already at crisis point instead of investing in early help services.

Cllr Richard Watts, Chair of the LGA's Children and Young People Board, said:

"Services caring for and protecting vulnerable children are now, in many areas, being pushed to breaking point.

"Councils are committed to providing the best possible support to vulnerable children and their families, but the demand for children's social care services has more than doubled and is stretching local authority resources.

"With councils facing a £2 billion funding gap for children's services in the next three years they have responded by reducing costs and finding new ways to deliver services. But there are very few savings left to find without having a real and lasting impact upon crucial services that many children and families across the country desperately rely on.

"Early intervention can help to limit the need for children to enter the social care system, lay the groundwork for improved performance at school and even help to ease future pressure on adult social care by reducing the pressure on services for vulnerable adults. However councils are in a difficult situation where they are struggling to invest in this vital early help and support."

Alison Michalska, President of the Association of Directors of Children's Services, said:

"It is unsurprising that the estimated funding gap for children's services has increased, expected to be £2bn by 2020, given that demand for these services continues to grow at the same time as our budgets have reduced. It is likely that this figure will continue to increase as the pressures facing children's social care deepen and are left unaddressed. For some time now the need for sufficient, sustainable and long term funding for children's services has been voiced by many in the sector, and for too long this has been ignored. We cannot go on as we are. Local authorities know that a strong local early intervention offer can reduce the need for more intrusive and costly interventions in the lives of children and families once problems have worsened and reached crisis point, yet councils have been left with no choice but to reduce these services in order to cope with rising demand. Local authorities have worked hard to make savings but we are running out of options.

"Securing good outcomes for children and young people must be an absolute priority for the next government and this can only be achieved by ensuring that the full breadth of children's services including social care and schools are properly funded in the future."

For a report on this matter in The Guardian, click here.