Gaps in provision for millions of children in care

New analysis for the Children’s Commissioner for England has revealed that nearly half of the entire £8.6 billion children’s services budget in England is now spent on 73,000 children in the care system.

Carried out by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the study of government spending on children between 2000 and 2020 finds that, generally, spending on children has been broadly maintained over the last 20 years, with spending per child 42 per cent higher in real terms than it was in 2000–01, although 10 per cent below its high point of £11,300 in 2010–11.

However, Public Spending on Children in England: 2000 to 2020 also finds that nearly half of spending on children’s services now goes on 73,000 children in the care system, while the other half has to cover the remaining 11.7 million children in England. Altogether, 72 per cent of children’s services budgets go towards helping families in severe need.

As a result, overall children’s services spending has been largely frozen since 2009–10 while preventative support funding, such as Sure Start and young people’s services, has consequently been cut by around 60 per cent in real-terms between 2009–10 and 2016–17.

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said: “Millions of vulnerable children who are not entitled to statutory support will be missing out because of the huge cost of helping a small number of children who are in crisis. While every child should receive the support they need, the economic and social costs of this current strategy are unsustainable. The cost to the state is ultimately greater than it should be and the cost to those vulnerable children missing out on support will last a lifetime.

“I hope this analysis will help to move the debate on from one simply about the amount we spend on children, to a debate about how we spend it. Next year’s Spending Review offers an opportunity to step in and support these children falling through the gaps, avoiding government silos and designing cross-departmental services built around a clear identification of the unmet needs of kids. Spending allocations should be seen through the prism of the child, not the prism of which bit of Whitehall thinks it can spend it best. If we can get this right, we will be acting in the best interests not only of vulnerable children, but of all children and the country.”

Richard Watts, chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said of the findings: “This report paints a stark picture of the reality facing councils, who cannot keep providing this standard of support without being forced to take difficult decisions and cut back on early intervention services which help to prevent children entering the care system in the first place. It also highlights the growing pressures around supporting children with special educational needs and disabilities, which reinforces our call for an urgent review of how this provision is funded.

“Children’s services are being pushed to the brink, and face a funding gap of almost £2 billion by 2020 just to maintain current service levels. The government urgently needs to commit to fully funding these services so that councils can manage the rising demand for help, while also providing the additional resources they need to support families before problems escalate to the point where a child might need to come into care.”​