Editor of www.careknowledge.com, Jim Kennedy, looks at the latest Action for Children report on the impact that the Coalition's spending plans are having on children and families - particularly those with additional needs.
At one level, this is not at all surprising. And there is much in Action for Children's report that will simply echo or confirm the experience of CareKnowledge subscribers. However, this is a major charity attempting to talk directly to Government about the effects of its policies, and their arguments may just have an impact. So, it's important to see where their findings and thinking lead them.
I had thought that the report might give me a detailed account of the overall spending decisions made by Government, along with an analysis of their broad impact on children and families. I had thought that might lead to a major focus on what is happening in the benefits and employment field, where I think current policies (and/or circumstances, depending on your view of the world) are having most impact on families.
There is some of that approach in the report, but it seems to me to focus much earlier and more extensively on the social care services (particularly Action for Children services) implications of Government decisions. This, I think results largely from the methodology used to inform the analysis, which principally involved extensive interviews with young people and their families and with Action for Children managers. It may also be because, the Charity felt there was little point in trying to confront the big economic arguments, that lead to the current service difficulties - there's little sign of anyone persuading Government that any sort of u-turn is necessary, let alone one that would see increased investment in support to families.
But, this absence of argument on the wider issues, I think, leaves the report's central recommendations looking a little misplaced. The two key conclusions are that the Government should place a duty on local authorities to provide sufficient early intervention services in their local area and that they (Government) should commit to alternative and long-term funding arrangements for local children's services, providing the security needed to achieve better outcomes and a shift to early intervention.
Both of these recommendations seem to me to duck the issue a little. Without additional funding, there seems little point in imposing further duties on local authorities. Any increased costs arising will just have to be taken out of other services. And, if the second point is code for: you've stripped too much out of the care system and need to increase local authority funding for these purposes, then it's a pity it doesn't just say so. Again, providing longer-term security comes down to having the right level of funding to sustain the system. Getting commitment to fund local services - often in the third sector - is likely to leave local authorities, in the middle of an impossible financial dilemma, unless they themselves have some flexibility to plan.
These arguments may lie in the background of - or the background thinking on - the report, but, for me, they don't come through strongly enough.
So, leaving aside the description of service pressures which I think CareKnowledge readers will understand only too well, what else in the report, caught my eye?
• The recommendation about the need for early intervention is linked, as in many other publications to arguments about the false economy of ignoring these spending options - and the potential for preventative work to deliver savings in the longer term
• The report notes that reductions in local authority expenditure, although 'front-loaded' to the early part of the spending review period, are only in their beginning stages, with significantly more to come
• The vast majority of the services covered by Acton for Children's research are subject to contracts that end before 2015
• Latest figures, quoted in the report, show continuing small reductions in the number of children living in poverty but these do not take account of most recent spending decisions
• Estimates also highlighted in the report suggest that the number of families with more than 5 vulnerabilities (multiple problems) will increase from 130,000 to 150,000, by 2015, a rise of over 14%. The number of children affected is expected to rise by 17%
• Amongst all of the reported increases in pressure and service cut-backs, the study found a few areas where there were positive developments. These related to an increase in the use of contracts for children's centres, that will take them through to 2015; and the fact that most family support services were not having to cut the number of hours spent with children and families.
For more from Jim visitwww.careknowledge.com