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Directors issue “call to arms” to centralise children’s issues in national policy

With the prospect of an estimated £4 billion blackhole in council finances over the next two years, a group of children’s services leaders says that successive governments have failed to prioritise children’s needs.

22/02/24

Directors issue “call to arms” to centralise children’s issues in national policy

Children’s outcomes have not been prioritised in recent years, according to children’s services leaders in local government.

The new report, which aims to articulate the challenges facing children and their families, attempts to put forward solutions for change which it says successive governments have left unaddressed.

Seven years ago, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) published ‘A country that works for all children’. The report released this week – ‘Childhood Matters’ – provides an update to capture the changes that have happened in the intervening years and describe the current situation for children, their families and the public services they rely on.

The updated paper acts as an urgent call to arms to put children and families at the heart of all policy decisions and to invest in them and their futures. It reiterates the Association’s previous calls for a comprehensive long-term vision and plan for childhood and to address the funding gap in children’s services. It also identifies the most pressing priority for all the different government departments and agencies with a stake in child and family policy.

Since 2010, funding for local government has fallen by almost half in real terms and several councils are now effectively bankrupt, with more expected to follow suit. There is an estimated £4 billion blackhole in council finances over the next two years, and while local politicians have worked hard to protect children’s services budgets, over time more is being spent on child protection and care meaning there is less for early help and support. Emergency one off injections of funding, while helpful, do not negate the need for sufficient, long-term funding for children’s services and local government.

“It is clear that children’s needs, rights and outcomes have not been prioritised in recent years,” John Pearce, ADCS President, said.

“The cumulative impact of government policies and decisions on them, their families and the public services that support them is growing. The impact is evident from underinvestment in school buildings, the allocation of new funding via competitions to insufficient action on rising levels of child poverty, mental distress, and blatant profiteering by some private providers of children’s homes.”

“During the pandemic pubs reopened before most pupils returned to school and even where there is significant planned investment in childcare, for example, the driver is getting adults back into work rather than children’s outcomes. What message does this send about our priorities as a country and how we value children in society?”

Responding to the new report, Cllr Louise Gittins, Chair of the Local Government Association Children and Young People’s Board said safe, healthy and happy children are more likely to go on to successful adulthoods. “However, as this paper highlights, current support and services for children and families are fragmented making it difficult to ensure that national and local partners are working together effectively.”

“To give all children the opportunity to fulfil their potential, we would like to see a cross-Government commitment to children, ensuring that every department plays its part in creating good childhoods. Councils must also have the right powers, levers and resources to deliver the joined up local support that their communities need.”

Foundations – the national What Works Centre for Children & Families – said it supports the call for a comprehensive national plan for children, backed by cross-government investment in children’s health services and family support programmes.

Dr Jo Casebourne, Foundations’ Chief Executive, said: “Investment must be based on proven support: money should be spent where it matters most, embracing evidence-based approaches to ensure every penny counts.”

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