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Alison Michalska: Not investing in children is a false economy

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Past and present presidents of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services have warned against incessant cuts to local authority budgets and highlighted the clear impact of austerity on children and their families.

But to articulate our funding challenges to the public in the way our colleagues in schools, the NHS and adult services have done is tricky. Those services are close to our communities, unlike many of the services we provide.

But although fewer children and families are involved with the child protection system than the numbers involved in the adult system, these vital services safeguard some of the most vulnerable children and young people from sometimes high-risk situations.

Funding for local government is at almost half the level it was in 2010, and at the same time more children and families are in need of support. The impact of cuts across wider public services and the rising levels of children and families living in poverty are only adding to the pressures we face. This is seriously hampering our ability to improve children’s outcomes.

No one should underestimate how hard local authorities have worked to protect the services on which our communities rely. But we have had to make difficult decisions – the impact of which should not be taken lightly.

Cuts to vital early help and preventative services have had to be made despite the recognition that late intervention will, in time, drive greater demand for social care activity.

Local authorities are now facing a level of demand and complexity for which current resourcing is insufficient. The Local Government Association estimates children’s services face a funding shortfall of at least £2bn by 2020.

As the government conducts its fairer funding review, we must remind them that any mechanism used to distribute an insufficient level of funding is still inadequate.

Imagine government plugs the £2bn funding gap. For a while we would need to double-invest in statutory child protection services and in early help services. But as we increased our ability to intervene earlier we would begin to feel the benefits.

Working with children and families before problems reach crisis point will ease the pressure on statutory services and enable us to do an even better job with the children and families we do work with.

Savings can then be reinvested in evidence-based early help services and the cycle can continue. The benefits of investing in our children now is clear – improving outcomes for the citizens of tomorrow and generations of children to come.

Alison Michalska, corporate director children and adults, Nottingham CC and 2017-18 president, ADCS

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