Bucks Council increases early child support spending, bucking national trend

Bucks Council spent more on early support for children over the last decade, according to a new report – despite the vast majority of other councils in England seeing a fall.
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A coalition of charities – The Children’s Society, Action for Children, Barnardo’s, National Children’s Bureau and the NSPCC – says councils have struggled with the impact of funding cuts, with many of the poorest areas hardest hit.

Research by Pro Bono Economics found that spending on early intervention support – which prevents children from coming to harm – was around £14.9 million in Buckinghamshire in 2020-21.

This was up 1% since 2010-11 in real terms (taking inflation into account) – effectively a rise of £109,000 in today's money.

money stock image, photo from PA Images/Dominic Lipinskimoney stock image, photo from PA Images/Dominic Lipinski
money stock image, photo from PA Images/Dominic Lipinski

This makes it one of just eight councils not to see a fall.

However, the Children's Society warned that this could be because of reduced spending on other council services, or some areas being less badly affected by cuts to government funding – but the reasons will vary.

Investment in early support services – which range from children’s centres and youth clubs, to targeted support with issues like drug and alcohol misuse – halved from £3.8 billion to £1.9 billion in real terms across England over this period.

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The charities said this has created a "vicious cycle", where councils are forced to spend more on costly crisis support, leaving more children and young people exposed to risks like exploitation, neglect and mental ill-health.

Mark Russell, chief executive at The Children’s Society, said: “Young people have told us they felt they needed to get hurt or harm someone in order to be taken seriously.

“It’s a big concern that children in deprived areas, where needs may be greatest, are often among those least likely to get help before problems spiral out of control.

“If ministers are serious about Levelling Up they must better target funding to the areas that need it most."

Researchers found spending on crisis and late intervention services rose from £6 billion to £8.2 billion in real terms across England over the decade.

In Buckinghamshire, this type of spending rose from £45.5 million to £69.5 million in real terms over this time.

The Children's Society said there be a could be a number of reasons why spending on late intervention support did not fall or rise in a minority of councils as expected – but these would differ from area to area.

This might include different thresholds for when children receive support, some areas receiving funding from outside the usual streams, or funding spread across more than one local authority.

Imran Hussain, director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, said: “Across political divides there has been recognition of the value to communities and the public purse of investing in services that help individuals and families early, before more serious and more costly problems develop.

“The Government has to give local authorities the resources they need to invest in preventative services to stem the tide of children coming to harm before they’re helped.”

The charities are calling for the next Prime Minister to invest a minimum of £2.6 billion extra in children’s social care, as recommended by the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, and for local authorities to be awarded extra funding in the next Chancellor’s first Budget.

A Government spokesman said: “We have made an additional £3.7 billion available to councils this year alone to help them deliver key services and support families.

“We are backing families with better and earlier access to services that keep them safe and healthy, by expanding a network of Family Hubs all over England and increasing investment in the Supporting Families programme, which is helping to keep up to 300,000 families together safely and provide loving homes for children."