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A spending round that works for all children

Next week, the Chancellor, Sajid Javid, will announce spending plans for public services for the next 12-months. There has been much speculation about what his priorities might be and which areas will receive good news. The Prime Minister has made a series of funding pledges to address some of the huge pressures faced by the NHS, schools and the police and as I understand it adult social care is also high on the priority list. This is good news for these services, investment in these areas will of course help children and the communities they live in, but I have not yet heard any good news for children’s services, despite the reams of evidence highlighting that there is not enough funding in the system to meet the rising level and complexity of need in our communities.

It’s hard to think of a single part of the public sector that isn’t under pressure and we are all working hard to make the case for much needed investment in our respective sectors, but does the fact that children’s services haven’t, at the time of writing, been mentioned mean that it is not a priority? I sincerely hope not. I cannot help but feel children’s services are being held to a much harder evidential test than any other part of the public sector as we put our case to the Treasury for an increased financial settlement.

Of the many rumours making their way across the media recently, the one that particularly caught my eye was the planned proposals for education as reported in the Guardian. On first reading, the injection of funding for school budgets and children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) is encouraging and it is right that the Treasury recognises the funding deficits in these areas. However, the suggestion that headteachers should be encouraged to use exclusion to deal with pupils presenting difficulties is deeply worrying. Only recently the long-awaited Timpson Review on exclusions highlighted the disproportionate number of pupils being excluded who receive SEN support, free school meals or are from ethnic minority backgrounds. Many of us hoped the Review marked a move towards a more inclusive education system that supports all pupils, particularly the most vulnerable, and does not just focus on academic results but many of the proposals outlined in Guardian’s report do not make me feel confident that we are moving in the right direction. Evidence tells us what improves behaviour in our schools; things like understanding pupils’ behaviour and building trusting, meaningful relationships over using ‘reasonable force’. Schools are a vital part of the local early help offer, they help us identify children at risk and work with them before problems escalate. If vulnerable children are not in school, we lose this vital opportunity.

It makes moral, and financial, sense to support children and families as and when their needs arise but we cannot do this if we are forced to spend what little resource we have on acute interventions when a child is presenting the greatest level of need. Currently, local authorities are having to make the kind of difficult decisions that are not in the best long-term interests of children and families and the human, and financial cost, of this is huge.

Next week, the Chancellor has an opportunity to invest in children and the vital services they rely on. The pressures faced by children’s social care and right across children’s services are very real and only increasing. The government must acknowledge this and provide us with the means to give all children and families the support that so many desperately need.

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