The future of children’s services

April 26, 2019   By Sarah Lawson, Policy Researcher, NLGN

“All adults should always do what is best for you.”Article 3 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, child-friendly version (1989)

On the thirtieth anniversary of this landmark Convention, the UK Government is falling woefully short when it comes to children’s best interests. The number of children in care has risen by nearly triple the rate of population growth since 2010, infant mortality rates have begun to stall after over a century of improvement, and child poverty is at a near 20-year high across parts of the country.

At NLGN we’re setting out on a new project, in association with IMPOWER, to understand what a transformation of children’s services would look like. Back in 2011, the Munro review called for radical reform towards a “child-centred system”, which focused on children’s needs rather than bureaucracy and compliance. But while pockets of innovation exist, on the whole, little has changed.

There is a strategic gap at the heart of government policy to address the rising demand challenges facing children’s services and the public sector more broadly. Our project aims to fill this gap, moving beyond innovation transfer, to a set of clear recommendations for Government and the many sectors that influence children’s lives.

Since the Munro review was released in 2011, council budgets have been slashed – the local government purse has been cut by 50 per cent in the last decade, and while statutory services have largely been protected, this has come at the cost of investing in prevention. Meanwhile, a £3.1 billion funding gap in children’s services is forecast by 2025.

But while funding must form part of the response to the crisis in children’s services, it is not the only answer. The world is changing, and public services must adapt to meet rising demand and complexity. This new approach should be community-led and have prevention at its core – as we call for in our recent report, The Community Paradigm.

Sustainable change will require deep shifts across national and local policy frameworks, and the culture and assumptions that underpin these. Through the coming months, we will be exploring what can be achieved when current norms are challenged.

So, what does this mean in practice for transformation of children’s services? We will be exploring how communities can be put at the heart of children’s services design and delivery – and learning from those who are already doing it. We will question the current approach to commissioning and consider the benefits new ways of working could realise. We’ll also be considering how best to support the social care workforce and how data collection and analysis could be improved. These examples scratch the surface of the many questions we are seeking answers to through the course of the project.

We’re keen that this conversation reaches far and wide – involving the many sectors and services that impact children’s lives in the UK. If you would like to get involved, we’d love to hear from you.

Our goal at the end of this conversation is to have collaboratively established some concrete steps to address the current challenges facing children’s services. In turn, we hope this will build some much-needed momentum so that adults who hold the power in the UK, really are doing what is best for children.

If you would like to find out more about the project or get involved, please contact Sarah Lawson at slawson@newlocal.org.uk.

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