Four in ten children’s services are unable to meet one or more of their statutory duties due to budget restraints, a survey of council leaders has revealed.
The survey of local councillors responsible for children’s services, carried out by the National Children’s Bureau, found 35% felt their local authority lacked the resources to support children in need, while 41% felt unable to fulfil at least one of their statutory duties as a result of funding pressures.
More than a third (35%) of councillors said there was insufficient funding to help children in care, while 30% said they lacked resources to support children with child protection plans.
Two-thirds of councillors from the 101 local authorities surveyed said there wasn’t enough money to provide universal services like children’s centres and youth clubs.
Anna Feucthwang, chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau, said the government “must take action” to provide families with the support they need.
The vast majority of councillors (87%), said demand for services had risen over the last two years. Half felt this was partly due to increased levels of poverty and hardship while 45% cited cuts to other services, such as housing support, as contributory factors. Nearly a quarter said that rising levels of abuse and neglect was contributing to increases in demand, while 36% said professionals getting better at spotting the signs of children being in need was a factor.
The number of children in care is at the highest it has ever been, according to government figures, and the Local Government Association has issued repeated warnings about a potential £2 billion funding gap in children’s services budgets by 2020.
Feuchtwang said: “It’s becoming increasingly clear that across England local authorities are struggling to meet the needs of children and young people, including those at considerable risk.”
She added: “We should be stepping in to help these children as early as possible, but with two-thirds of lead members saying they have insufficient resources to provide universal services, prevention and early help are falling by the wayside, as councils are forced to prioritise funds for those closest to crisis.”
Children’s minister Robert Goodwill said spending on children’s services had increased.
“In 2015 we made more than £200 billion available to local authorities for services up to 2019-20, and local authorities increased spending on children and young people’s services to over £9 billion in 2015-16,” Goodwill said.
“In addition to this, we are investing £200 million in our Innovation Programme so councils and others have support to trial ways to reform services to be more effective. As part of this, we have announced £20 million to provide additional support to local authorities where risk of failure is highest.”