MORE THAN A MILLION vulnerable children in England are being damaged and their life chances reduced by cuts to early years and youth support since 2010 which should be reversed, says a House of Lords committee.
Lack of investment in protecting children at risk of serious harm has been felt disproportionately in the most deprived areas – resulting in worse life chances for children, bigger bills for taxpayers and more pressure on social services, according to a new report – Children in crisis: the role of public services in overcoming child vulnerability – by the House of Lords Public Services Committee, published on19 November 2021.
The committee wants government to pledge to return to higher 2010 levels of investment in early help services to support children and families. Ministers should set out urgently a national cross-government funded strategy with a plan for a nationwide roll-out of Family Hubs (centres where families and young people get joined-up help with a range of problems) at its heart.
A government Spending Review commitment to fund a small number of Family Hubs in only half of local authority areas will not compensate for the closure of children’s centres and falls “far short” of the vision set out in its own Early Years review, chaired by Andrea Leadsom MP, which recommended that all families should be able to access a Hub.
Spending on early intervention support in areas of England with the highest levels of child poverty fell by 53 per cent between 2010 and 2019, research by Pro Bono Economics for the committee found, including:
- Walsall – down 81 per cent
- Manchester – down 75 per cent
- Liverpool – down 65 per cent
A government pledge to spend £492 million on early help services over the next three years is “welcome” says the committee but after a decade of underinvestment this would not repair the “creaking public services infrastructure” on which vulnerable children rely or make up for the £1.7 billion-a-year cuts to council services such as Sure Start centres and family support since 2010.
A survey of almost 200 public service professionals found that half had seen a rise in the number of children and families requesting help with mental ill-health, domestic violence and addiction problems since the start of the pandemic.
Lack of coordination by government and regulators has undermined the ability of local services to work together effectively, intervene early and share information to keep vulnerable children safe and improve their lives, according to the committee.
And statutory agencies have failed to engage the voluntary sector or listen to service users when designing and delivering public services.
Baroness Armstrong, chair of the committee, said: “We face a crisis in child vulnerability which needs urgent action. Too often public services can’t help children before it’s too late. Too many children fall through the gaps, go into care, are excluded from school or end up in prison – all of which costs the public purse more in the long run.
“We’re pleased that the government is supporting some areas to develop some Family Hubs but it now needs to commit to a national roll-out with the most deprived communities given priority to help vulnerable children and their parents. Effective early intervention services could reduce the role of the state in family life by supporting parents to meet their children’s needs.
“The government talks a lot about ‘levelling up’ so to start with it should restore funding for early intervention to 2010 levels and ministers must match their stated ambition on child vulnerability with urgent action to improve the life chances of disadvantaged children.”
Commenting on the report, Mark Russell, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, said: “These findings make clear the enormous human costs if problems and risks in children’s lives are left to spiral out of control and it is scandalous that so many vulnerable children in the UK are suffering harm to their lives and life chances.
“Record numbers of children are in care, while successive lockdowns have made life harder for young people who were already struggling and exposed many more to new challenges and dangers, be it mental ill-health, financial hardship, or abuse and exploitation.
“The new investment announced in the Budget, is nowhere near enough. If ministers are serious about levelling up it will require comprehensive investment in early help for children and families which also enables councils to implement the recommendations of the ongoing children’s care review.
“The Budget also did little to address the mental health crisis facing our young people or to shield families from benefit cuts at a time of rising inflation.
“We want to see the Government commit to ensuring children in every community can get immediate help with their mental health at a nationwide network of early help hubs, offering support to children and young people of all ages.
“Alongside this we also need to see a much stronger safety net for families in financial crisis when the household support fund closes in March. The Government must act quickly to produce a properly coordinated plan to address the immediate challenges facing vulnerable children and families and offer them hope for the future.”
* Read the report Children in crisis here.