The first 100 days of a new Government are without doubt the most important. This is the test, the test of the rhetoric and the robustness of the desire to make things better. Here at Action for Children, working alongside other leading children’s charities, we know exactly what we want to see from the next Government; money better spent on early help for children to prevent problems from becoming crises. And we all know what a crisis looks like for our most vulnerable children.
There is plenty of rhetoric from Governments past and present about the need to invest in early intervention. But for those of us working directly with children, the reality is that this ambition is made difficult for a number of reasons.
We know that preventative spending is falling because current funding arrangements do not incentivise the early help approach. This is coupled with the inherent problem with social care finance, as with many key issues, that those who pay for services often do not gain the substantial financial benefits of doing so.
The next Government must introduce longer-term spending plan for funding to be made available to children’s services, ideally in line with the 5 year fixed term Parliament.
Longer term spending arrangements are about much more than financial planning. In children’s services, financial stability is directly linked to our ability to provide stable and effective interventions with children and families. Unsurprisingly, this in turn produces better outcomes.
Councils also have a crucial role to play in getting this right for children. As commissioners of services they need to show leadership and be brave, accepting that judicious risk taking is necessary for early intervention because it requires things to be done in a different way.
The community budget in England needs to be embedded in a new relationship between funding and service delivery, with all agencies benefiting from the approach and sharing the upfront investment needed to deliver it in each locality.
In children’s services and so many other arenas, results take time. Outcomes are driven by stable professional approaches and funding.
We must modernise the way we spend money in children’s services, and not just what we spend it on. It’s time to move away from the serious and manifest flaws of short termism in the funding and commissioning system. It is time for us to innovate the way we deliver help locally, and most importantly, deliver help early to the children who need it most. That is a prize worth a big effort from each of us.