Overstretched support services unable to meet rise in demand

Rising unemployment, growing substance misuse, neglect and mental health problems are leaving already vulnerable families at breaking point as frontline support services struggle to cope with demand, Action for Children has warned.

In its latest report, The Red Book, the charity has claimed that a rise in the number of children, young people and families needing urgent help with increasingly serious problems coupled with budget reductions, is making it more difficult for the most vulnerable to access help.

The report is the result of a year-long investigation into the social and financial costs of the government’s spending review in October last year. Research gathered from more than 200 Action for Children frontline social care managers found that 68 per cent had experienced budget cuts, with more than a third having seen cuts of between 11 and 30 per cent this year.

 In the past three months, 48 per cent of frontline services have reported a “marked rise” in the number of children, young people and families unable to access a service they need. At least 5,000 children, young people and families have been identified as needing the services Action for Children provides but are currently not receiving support.

Lesley Stopforth, Action for Children service manager for the north west of England, said: “It is becoming harder for us to get help to those children and families who so desperately need it in my area. The number of children who need help is rising day by day, but the support that is available to them is slowly disappearing and many are left with unmet needs.

“We are doing all we can on a reduced budget and with fewer staff, but we worry about all those families we know about, but can’t take on right now. The country is in a difficult financial position, but our children shouldn’t be the ones paying the price.”

More than 40 per cent of managers believe demand for their services has risen because of an increase in family breakdown, while higher instances of parental mental or physical health problems was reported by 39 per cent of managers. Reduction in other community services such as child and adolescent mental health services was cited by 38 per cent of managers and the reduction in household income because of unemployment was seen to be a problem by 26 per cent.

Action for Children chief executive Dame Clare Tickell said: “Children’s services professionals are trying their best every day but budgets are shrinking and needs are growing quickly.

“We are at a tipping point. The government must take this opportunity to take stock and ensure that their stated intentions to protect the lives of the most vulnerable children, and the measures taken subsequently, are enough.”

The charity is now calling for increased early intervention services and the introduction of a duty on local authorities and statutory partners to provide such services.