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Turning the tide: Reversing the move to late intervention spending in children and young people's services

Bureau highlighted the worrying fall in funding for local services such as children’s centres and youth services, which are focused on prevention and early intervention. Our report Losing in the long run shone a light on the difficult decisions councils are making to reduce spending on universal services and targeted early intervention as they deal with reduced budgets.

Early intervention has long been valued by councils as a means to help prevent problems escalating to a point where children and young people require more costly interventions, such as being taken into care. From parenting classes to substance misuse prevention, programmes and the local services which deliver them form a key part of councils support for local communities.

However, prevention and early intervention is only one part of local government spending on children and young people’s services. A much larger amount is spent each year on services that support those with more complex problems. These services often act as ‘late’ or ‘crisis’ intervention. They cover local councils spending on safeguarding and support provided to children in care, and for those with complex needs who remain in the family home.

Since 2010 the demand for these ‘late’ intervention services has increased significantly. 1 This has taken place against a backdrop of reduced funding for all parts of children and young people's services from central government. This means that local authorities have been forced to make significant cuts to preventative and early intervention services.

In this new report we look at current funding and spend right across children and young people's services. We provide an estimate of how much councils are receiving for children and young people's services and where this is being allocated. Our analysis finds an ongoing trend where councils no longer have the resources to fund services that step in and help families early. Instead they are increasingly forced to focus on dealing with problems once they have escalated. However, the reduction of early intervention services is likely to only increase demand for more costly ‘late’ interventions. Universal and early intervention services have been shown to make the difference to children and young people. They are the best approach to reducing demand at a higher, more costly level.

The challenge faced by councils is now being highlighted by representative bodies. The Local Government Association has analysed local authority spending across a broad range of services. They have estimated that a funding gap of £2 billion (bn) will emerge in children and young people’s services by 2020. This gap only reflects the level of funding required to maintain current spending on children and young people's services based on 2016 figures. It doesn’t reflect the additional cost of any increase in demand for these services by the end of the decade – or taking funding levels back to those seen in previous years.

With continued austerity, proposed reforms to local government funding being shelved, and no alternative solution in place, children and young people's services are
on a far from stable footing. This report argues that central government has a duty to take action so that children are not forced to wait longer for the support they need. Councils must receive urgent additional funding – with the clear stipulation that this is spent on earlier intervention. But beyond this we need a plan for the future, based on fairer funding decisions that meet local needs.