Lack of parenting support funds fuels riots debate

Local authorities are spending on average just 6% of their early intervention grant on parenting support this year, according to responses to a Community Care freedom of information request. This has added fuel to the debate over the riots. (Picture: Alamy, posed by models.)

Despite the prime minister’s calls for stronger parenting in England after last week’s riots and looting, local authorities are spending on average just 6% of their early intervention grant on parenting support this year, according to responses to a Community Care freedom of information request.

Last week, David Cameron said: “The sight of those young people running down streets, smashing windows, taking property, looting, laughing as they go – the problem of that is a complete lack of proper parenting, a lack of proper upbringing. That is what we need to change.”

In her final review of child protection in England, Professor Eileen Munro pointed to Department of Health research stating that for every £1 spent on “parenting interventions to prevent persistent conduct disorders in their children” local authorities would save £7.89.

The riots have shown the potential for such an investment and the need for greater commitment to parenting programmes, experts have said.

“It seems ironic that David Cameron is emphasising parenting support now because he’s the one who put in the cuts that are forcing local authorities to decrease their parenting support services,” said Nushra Mansuri, professional officer at the British Association of Social Workers.

“He’s seeing the devastation now, though. If the government really is going to commit to effective parenting programmes, they need to implement ring-fencing.

Toby Perkins, shadow education minister, said: “All the evidence shows that we’re actually seeing cuts in preventative programmes. That really doesn’t match up with the government’s rhetoric about the importance of supporting parents and the situation is very dangerous when we’re seeing the catastrophic reality of when children and young people go off the rails in the riots that happened last week.”

Members of the children’s services sector have said 6% of a local authority’s early intervention grant on parenting will not cover the support families need.

“Six per cent of the grant is not going to provide the type of universal provision that the government is calling for,” said Pamela Park, chief executive of Parenting UK.

“Taking a holistic view, we believe councils must invest enough to allow for a universal offer of parenting support in early years, with enough on top of that for follow-up support for parents as new challenges arise as their children get older. I don’t think this 6% is enough for all that.”

Statistics show about a quarter of those charged in connection with the looting and riots in England were younger than 18.

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Workforce spending sacrificed as cuts bite

Councils’ prioritisation of children’s centres over workforce development within early intervention will cut preventive work, social care experts have warned.

Findings from a freedom of information request showed that councils are spending on average just 1% of their early intervention grant on workforce development and support. This is in contrast to the 35% spent on children’s centres (see right).

This imbalance will lead to less preventive work, according to Nushra Mansuri, professional officer at the British Association of Social Workers: “When Sure Start centres first opened, they were swamped because they had a brief to do the more preventive work. But, because councils weren’t coping with the level of high-end crisis stuff, children’s centre staff were having to handle the spill-over.

“So this investment in children’s centres being so much more than that in the social care workforce could lead to less early intervention work. It means the relatively comfortable children’s centres will be tied up handling the late-intervention crisis cases because local authorities won’t have adequate workforce capacity to do so themselves. Early intervention will fall by the wayside.”

Council prioritisation of child protection over training and professional development is typical of times when budgets are thinly stretched, according to Ray Jones, professor of social work at Kingston University.

“There’s always a danger when money gets tight that agencies will look to decrease expenditure on staff training and development,” he said. “It’s a short-term fix, but it’s not a medium- or long-term solution. If you don’t keep the confidence and competence of staff up, the service provision will suffer.”

Legal threat to councils over short break spending

Councils could face legal challenges because they are allocating too little of the early intervention grant to short breaks, a disability lawyer has warned.

A freedom of information request for councils to break down their early intervention grant spend showed that, on average, they are spending 6% of it on short breaks. A spokesperson from Every Disabled Child Matters said this figure was much lower than the 8.9% the government had envisaged.

“When the early intervention grant was announced, we asked the government what funding was going towards short breaks and they said the funding from Aiming High for Disabled Children plus a bit more,” the spokesman said. “So we’re surprised by the 6% figure.”

Although the grant is not ring-fenced, authorities could run into legal trouble due to a number of other short-break duties, said Steve Broach, a barrister who produced a guide to the law and social care for Every Disabled Child Matters.

“The grant isn’t ring-fenced, but there’s a serious expectation that a proportion of it will be spent on short breaks because there’s £100m in the early intervention grant that the government specified was for that purpose,” he said.

“Though there’s no absolute requirement to comply, there are a number of legal duties that make it difficult for any local authority to justify any departure from that plan.”

Broach said section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 presented hurdles for authorities, one being the requirement to have due regard to a range of needs.

“This means that, if an authority were choosing to spend its early intervention grant on lots of things falling outside the needs of disabled children, they could run into a challenge,” he said.

Under the Equality Act, local authorities should consider treating children with disabilities more favourably than non-disabled when budgets dictate that services must be prioritised.

An early intervention grant with low levels designated to the needs of disabled children, Broach said, could set off alarm bells for anyone looking into an authority’s service priorities.

The social work workforce could also suffer if short breaks duties are kept too low, according to Christine Lenehan, director of the Council for Disabled Children.

“If you were a social worker working under Aiming High, your life was a lot easier,” said Lenehan. “The programme allowed you to work with families in genuine partnership. It’s always easier to be partners when you’ve got money to share.”

What is the early intervention grant?

The 2010 comprehensive spending review streamlined several funding streams that supported vulnerable children and families into an early intervention grant of £2bn for 2011-12.

The grant reflects a 12% cut in the Department for Education’s non-schools budget.

Rather than earmark what these pots should be spent on, the government said each council should decide its own priorities.

Sarah Teather, children and families minister, said the grant would give councils “greater flexibility to target resources strategically and intervene early to improve outcomes for children, young people and families”.

Funding streams incorporated into the early intervention grant include: children’s centres, short breaks for disabled children, parenting support, substance misuse among young people, teenage pregnancy and children’s social care workforce.

Where did we get our data?

Community Care submitted a freedom of information request to all councils in England asking for a breakdown of their early intervention grant spend.

We focused on children’s centres, social care workforce development, disabled children, short breaks for disabled children and parenting support.

A total 72 councils responded. Although councils may also pay for these services from other funding pots, the early intervention grant gives a good indication of where priorities lay.

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