The Children’s Fund is an inspired programme. For the
first time for decades we had a government which was interested in
the fate of disadvantaged children, and was putting money into the
hands of local communities to give them a better chance. The fund
generated a large and diverse array of new work, and as a result
has touched the lives of some of the most isolated and marginalised
children in the land. The Children’s Fund, with Sure Start
and Connexions, has laid the foundation of a new body of knowledge
about effective preventive services.
The current funding crisis is now jeopardising much of this
progress. Our letter from the Princess Royal Trust for Carers,
together with the heartfelt piece from an anonymous
Children’s Fund programme manager, indicates not only the
extent of the damage, but the fact that it is so unnecessary.
In contrast, the delay in announcing next year’s budget is
down to ministers at the DfES “reviewing their priorities”. The
government’s target of tackling poverty and social exclusion
among children, and the size of the pot of money set aside by
chancellor Gordon Brown, means individual programmes are vulnerable
to ministerial tinkering. We’ve already seen Sure Start
change from a programme to improve the care of young children to
the central plank in the strategy to get their parents into jobs.
The Children’s Fund has already been raided in the interests
of the youth crime agenda, with 25 per cent of funds diverted to
projects approved by the Youth Justice Board. Of course it’s
legitimate for the government to review its spending priorities.
But with this furtive and belated cash grab, it is risking the
goodwill, and good faith, of the professionals and organisations it
most needs to achieve its aims.