Let's invest in our children and young people

It’s that time again when we will soon find out what budget challenges we will face going forward and what if any good news may come to enable us to meet the increasing needs of children, young people and their families. Later this month, the Chancellor will present his Autumn Budget setting out government spending for not one but three years. The government has the opportunity to invest, to enable public services to plan and deliver for the coming years, as we continue to focus on recovery from the pandemic.

The impact of the last 18 months and successive lockdowns on society cannot be underestimated. The government has committed to ‘build back better’ but the needs of children and young people must not be overlooked. They have given up so much for the benefit of us all and there is now a risk that missed education, employment and/or training, together with life experiences lost, will negatively affect the life chances of a generation. You are only a child once and every year is a year of major development. Now is surely the time for the government to properly fund the services that support children and young people to prevent a decade of further disadvantage and rising child poverty. Covid has of course exacerbated existing issues, but this only highlights the need for a strong national commitment to allow children to thrive and benefit from a country that works for all children.

ADCS recently submitted a paper to the Spending Review, and within it we noted five key areas for priority investment: addressing the impact of the pandemic; effective support and prevention; special educational needs and disabilities; the best care for those who need it; and education. We have been pressing government for long-term, meaningful investment in these areas long before the pandemic impacted on all of our lives. Why? Because in 2019/20 there were 4.3 million children living in poverty and disadvantaged pupils in England were 18.1 months of learning behind their peers by the time they finished their GCSEs. The additional impact that the pandemic is having on the lives of these children and families is only just emerging, not to mention a cohort of newly vulnerable families that we have not previously worked with. Only by fully investing in the five areas highlighted above can we give these families the support they need and reduce the rising costs of local authority children’s services which continue to spiral out of control.

Before the pandemic, a decade of austerity left local government funding in a parlous state and children’s services teetering on the edge of becoming a ‘blue light’ service. Tough decisions have had to be made about how funding is allocated and often the services most at risk are those addressing the root causes of problems children and their families face before they reach crisis point. This does nothing to reduce future demand, is more expensive in the long term and leads to poorer outcomes. The government must invest in the type of preventative services that reduce demand and improve lives. Schools, early years and further education settings are essential parts of the preventative agenda and during the pandemic demonstrated the potential for future ways of working and the impact we have when working in flexible partnership. Further, the emergence of Family Hubs which offer support and advice to families with children aged 0-25 at the heart of local communities gives us some insight into how investing in prevention can improve lives and significantly reduce demand for crisis services and intensive intervention in family life.

We cannot afford to pass up this opportunity to build on what we have learnt and what we know works. It has been an unprecedented time and one that requires an unprecedented level of investment to address the lasting impact of the pandemic on vulnerable children, young people, their families and carers. They deserve the best!


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