Gary Craig is professor of social justice at the
University of Hull. He is leading the national evaluation of the
Local Network Fund and undertakes a wide range of research on race
and ethnicity, children and young people, community development and
empowerment, and poverty and inequality.
In recent months there have been debates about the proposed cuts
to the Children’s Fund and to local Connexions partnerships. Yet in
the midst of this, the achievements of the Local Network Fund for
Children and Young People (LNF) – originally born as a companion to
the Children’s Fund – have been overlooked. The first evaluation
report of the LNF was published1 in March and raises important
issues about the government’s strategy for combating childhood
The LNF is a five-year programme of small grants, which total
£150m. It was proposed in the government’s cross-cutting
reviewon young people and was a response to the Social Exclusion
Unit’s report on young people.
It takes a preventive approach to poverty among children and young
people (aged 0-19) by funding groups best able to provide local
solutions to child poverty. The LNF gives grants to small,
grassroots organisations in the poorest communities that work with
children and young people who are most in need and who have trouble
having access to services, and helping them express their
The idea of tackling poverty by giving people money is often viewed
as heretical, yet this is exactly what the LNF does. Grants of
between £250 and £7,000 are available, usually for one
year or less. Organisations are encouraged to develop new projects
and activities and are required to have child protection policies
The LNF was rolled out in three waves up until April 2003 and now
covers every English local authority area. Each community LNF has
an annual budget of a few hundred thousand pounds, and is managed
by a local agency, usually a Community Foundation, Council of
Voluntary Service or Rural Community Council. Grants can be made
under four themes:
- Aspirations and experiences.
- Economic disadvantage.
- Isolation and access.
- Children and young people’s voices.
The evaluation has found concerns about whether funds are going
to smaller, less experienced groups (which represent children,
young people and their communities) as intended, or are they going
to the “usual suspects”?
The evaluation found that at the beginning most grants went to
well-established groups and that very few applicants had never
previously applied for any grants. However, there is evidence this
is changing. This is important if the LNF is to achieve its goal of
building local, sustainable capacity.
Involvement of children
Every LNF has an outreach worker whose job it is to drum up grant
applications. There was some concern among LNFs that this outreach
work might be seen as promoting child protection within small
organisations at the expense of encouraging applications. Yet in
reality, both goals have to be achieved since every group applying
has to have a child protection policy. Indeed, one respondent said
that this requirement might come to be seen as the “jewel in the
crown” of the LNF, since it raised the degree of awareness of child
protection issues at local community level.
The requirement for a child protection policy presented a barrier
only to the least well-established groups. Here outreach may be
critical in providing appropriate help. Most of the early
applicants had a child protection policy in place already, while
about one-fifth of applicants developed a child protection policy
as a result of approaching the LNF. Groups with a child protection
policy seemed more likely to have children and young people
involved in the running of their organisations.
Some of the four themes outlined above were seen as softer than the
others, particularly those concerned with the aspirations and
experiences of children and young people.
Initially, many groups ticked all four boxes in their application
forms to describe their goals but there is now a requirement to
indicate the most important goal alone. Since then, more groups
have opted for the softer goals. We found far fewer applicants
concerned with promoting children and young people’s voices.
This may change as the LNF beds in. Certainly encouraging children
and young people’s participation is an important aim of the LNF and
the evaluation will look at whether such participation is
However, groups led by children and young people were a minority of
those receiving funding. LNFs have acknowledged that more work is
needed to encourage greater children’s involvement, along with more
effectively reaching out to other marginalised groups such as
ethnic minorities and disabled children’s groups.
The LNF had some organisational difficulties during its
establishment that led to the central management of the scheme
being withdrawn from the Community Foundation Network and taken
into the Children’s and Young People’s Unit. This move does not
appear to have created problems for most LNFs. The greater
difficulty is managing the tension between the need for consistency
and the need for programmes to be flexible and responsive to local
conditions. This is a common tension for grant-giving programmes
managed centrally but delivered locally.
The LNF also uses a national call centre that handles all initial
enquiries, and routes applicants to their local LNF. There was a
marked difference of opinion here between applicants and local LNF
staff. Successful applicants were overwhelmingly happy with the
advice they had received from the call centre – unsuccessful
applicants were, unsurprisingly, less happy. But staff at local
LNFs were less convinced of the value of the call centre, arguing
that they were best placed to respond sensitively to initial
The issue of sustainability will be particularly pertinent in the
continuing evaluation. Most projects were applying for funding for
a year or less although there was interest in second year funding.
Many LNFs were concerned about the issue of sustainability.
Similarly, most LNFs said that they had an effect in improving
“poverty of well-being” but that they could only have a limited
impact in terms of reducing economic poverty.
Although it is relatively early in the life of the LNF, young
people, parents and the wider community did identify some benefits
of the programme. These included acquiring new skills, boosting
morale and confidence, networking, increasing volunteering and
participation. Respondents had modest expectations of the LNF’s
ability to address poverty.
One of the national respondents indicated that it might be
legitimate to regard the LNF as a programme that might not make a
huge difference in financial terms but its way of working and its
establishment by the government were clear indications of a
commitment to addressing childhood poverty.
National and local respondents raised the relationship between the
Children’s Fund and the LNF. Some LNFs had expected a closer
relationship than has materialised.
This first stage of the evaluation has raised key questions. These
include the application process, the LNF system as a whole and the
way resources are targeted. Issues around building capacity at
local level, addressing poverty and defining and measuring impacts
were also highlighted.
– The final report will be produced in early 2005. This will also
incorporate findings from the economic evaluation of the
cost-effectiveness of the LNF, and analysis of the administrative
data collected at national level.
Key features of LNFs
- Widely available, relatively small grants.
- Encourages grant-makers to be close to local communities.
- “Light touch”central monitoring of the projects.
- Support for local groups in making applications.
- Public accountability about the way decisions and grants are
- Emphasis on making grants to schemes that promote inclusion and
This article summarises the main findings from the early stages
of the national evaluation of the Local Network Fund, a small
grants scheme managed through the DfES which provides support for
children and young people in poverty. So far the scheme has had a
variety of beneficial impacts on children, young people and their
carers, as well as raising awareness of issues around child
protection. Yet, despite its good outreach work in many areas, some
marginalised groups have yet to benefit.
1 Department for Education
and Skills, A Promising Start? March 2004, available from
DfES publications price £4.95 or from
The final evaluation report willbe published early next year
- A summary of this and other research with children and young
people funded by the DfES can be accessed through www.dfes.gov.uk/research
- The DfES has recently published a handbook for those working to
involve children in policy, service planning, delivery and
evaluation, Building a Culture of Participation, by P
Kirby et al, 2004
- The major national children’s agencies all undertake
research and developmental work with children and young people. See
www.ncb.org.uk, www.scf.org.uk, www.childsoc.org.uk, and www.nspcc.org.uk
- A useful recent addition to the literature is Hearing the
Voices of Children, C Hallett and A Prout, Routledge,
Gary Craig, professor of social justice, University of Hull,
Hull, HU6 7RX E-mail: G.Craig@hull.ac.uk tel.01482
465780, fax 01482 466088.