Schools will have take on some of the children and families support work now carried out by children’s services, sector experts say.
Paul Ennals, chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau, said the 12% reduction in the Department for Education’s non-schools budget and the 28% cut in local council allocations over the next four years left only one option.
“Schools must prepare themselves to shoulder more of the burden of supporting children and their families,” he said.
“The reality is that, to be successful, schools depend on a range of services that allow children to thrive in education and those services are facing cuts. Schools are now going to have to pick up that mantle.”
Nottinghamshire Council’s children’s services has already passed to schools much of the responsibility for supporting disabled children in education.
However, Ennals welcomed the £2bn early intervention grant that children’s services directors had been lobbying for.
“The department hasn’t said how this will work or will be directed, but that grant could become very important over the next few years if we are to protect the services children and families depend on,” he said.
Despite the announcement of increased personal budgets to disabled children and their families, the outlook for disabled children is grim, according to Srabani Sen, chief executive of Contact a Family.
“The reduction of the childcare element of the working tax credit will hit hard on families with disabled children because their cost of childcare is so much higher than those with non-disabled children,” she said.
She had similar concerns about the government’s earlier announcement that higher earners would no longer be eligible for child benefit.
“That change does not take into account the additional costs necessary for parents of disabled children,” she said.
Fostering organisations are also worried about implications of Osborne’s announcements.
“Foster care is historically under-funded and research by Loughborough University that we commissioned earlier this year estimated that an additional £580m would be needed over the next five years to cover the increasing numbers of children in care,” said Madeleine Tearse, policy manager of the Fostering Network.
“We’re certainly not going to see that kind of boost and it’s possible – though we don’t know for sure yet – that there will be cuts. In view of what Tim Loughton has said in the past, I would hope the budget for fostering is relatively stable, but it certainly won’t be increasing to the levels we need right now.”
Others are worried the shift from centralised to more localised services will mean an unfair strain on certain areas.
“When you take the 7.1% annual decrease in local government budgets, the move away from national indicators and the removal of ring-fencing for vulnerable groups, you’re left asking, are we going to end up with a post code lottery?” Bob Reitemeier, CEO of the Children’s Society said. “The government needs to make sure there’s a balance between localism and the need for some continual accountability.”
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