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Footing the bill for children’s services

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With services for children and young people amongst the hardest being hit by public spending cuts, has the time come for a more innovative approach to funding children’s services?

Effective and early intervention clearly works according to a report published in November by the Centre for Excellence and Outcomes in Children and Young People’s Services. The report highlights that money invested wisely now can reap rewards in both financial and social terms over decades.

The coalition’s details of an early intervention grant worth £2,212m in 2011-12, increasing to £2,297m in 2012-13, will be welcomed by many authorities. However, funding for some existing schemes has been cut so money will continue to be tight in the years ahead.

This raises the question of whether services that stand to benefit from a child not ‘falling through the net’ early in life – such as health, the police, prison service, and adult social care – should be asked to help pay for some key children’s services that would have a direct impact on improving outcomes.

Prevention is better than cure

There is evidence that a child who ends up as NEET (not in education, employment or training), for example, has a greater chance of needing more expensive support from health, the police, the prison service, and social services than one who remained in education or found work after leaving school.

Consequently, it might make sense for these services to help fund support aimed at reducing youth unemployment. The Families at Risk report from the Social Exclusion Taskforce stated that 60% of boys whose fathers go to prison are eventually convicted themselves. And according to figures from the National Audit Office, if one in ten young offenders were prevented from going to prison through early intervention, it would save over £100m a year.

This could be a strong argument for the police and youth services to consider some more joint funding of schemes targeting young people that are likely to fall into a path of crime.

Failure is not an option

A study conducted by the New Economics Foundation on the charity Action for Children’s early intervention work has shown that for every £1 invested in schemes designed to catch problems early and prevent their reoccurrence, the benefit to society has been worth between £7.60 and £9.20.

Children in difficulties need support. Put simply, the cost of not intervening – to both society and the individual children themselves – is just too high.

Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures and perhaps looking at funding services in a more joined up way may be a solution that will save us money and improve the future chances of the more vulnerable in society.

Pete Houselander, managing director, Capita Children’s Services

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