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Chancellor urged to invest in the most valuable resource that children have: their families.

Published: 4th March 2024

5 minute read

On Wednesday 6th March, the Chancellor will deliver his 2024 Spring Budget. Our Chief Executive, Cathy Ashley, has written to Mr Hunt to urge him to put children and families at the top of the Government’s priority list.

The Budget will be delivered against the backdrop of record numbers of children looked after in the care system and a growing crisis in local authority finances. Many children are living in inappropriate accommodation far from home. More could be living safely in their family including kinship care with the right support. The increasing cost of children’s social care is one of the biggest pressures on council budgets. Last month, 19 councils in England were handed multimillion-pound government bailout agreements totalling £2.5bn to prevent them collapsing into bankruptcy.

Family Rights Group has presented the Government with costed measures which could help transform outcomes for many children and ease pressures on the public finances.

Read Cathy’s letter below.

Dear Chancellor,

Spring Budget 2024 

As you finalise your plans for the Spring Budget, Family Rights Group urges you to put children and families at the top of your priority list. We write to recommend measures which could help transform outcomes for many children and ease pressures on the public finances.

Family Rights Group is the leading national charity working to ensure children can live safely and thrive within their family – either with their parents who might need extra help or in kinship care with relatives or friends. Where children are in the care system, we work to strengthen their family and community networks.

The children’s social care system is currently in crisis. The number of children in the care system in England has now risen year on year to an all-time high of 83,840. Many are living in inappropriate accommodation far from home. Local authorities are struggling with rising care costs whilst the larger private sector children’s home providers are making record profits. The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care has warned that without a change of direction, the number of children in care will hit 100,000 by 2032, at a cost of a further £5 billion. Currently, we are letting down too many children and families and draining the public purse in the process.

The Government’s children’s social care reform implementation strategy sets a welcome direction of travel, with a focus on early help and prevention and supporting more children to remain within their family. Indeed, we welcomed comments made late last year by your then Treasury colleague John Glen MP about the economic case for investing in kinship care to avert children from the care system. Our research and work servicing the APPG on Kinship Care has highlighted that many more children in the care system could be living safely and thriving in kinship care with the right support.

Family Rights Group is urging Government to support the most valuable resource that children have: their families. Our proposals below build on the Government’s reforms so far and should be delivered alongside the investment in early help recommended by the Independent Review.

Increase funding for early specialist advice 

The child welfare and family justice system is complex. Early specialist advice has a crucial role to play in helping parents and kinship carers navigate that system, understand their rights and responsibilities, and avert children from care. Family Rights Group’s specialist advice line saves £15.58 for every £1 of public investment but can currently only answer four in ten calls.

Extend the use of family group conferences 

A family group conference is a structured process where a child’s family members take the lead in making a plan to support their welfare. A recent RCT study, published by Foundations, shows that family group conferences help families resolve concerns, keep children safely within their family network and avert children from entering the care system, saving the state money.

Raise the ambition for kinship care 

The Government’s Families First for Children Pathfinder and recently published kinship care strategy make some positive progress. But too many of the measures are limited to a subset of families in a small number of authorities. Kinship carers are struggling with practical, financial and emotional challenges now. As interim steps, our proposals include:

  • Extending the financial allowances pathfinder to more local authorities and removing the perverse criteria that children must have previously been looked-after to be eligible.
  • Undertake an extensive economic cost benefit analysis for introducing a right to paid employment leave and protection for kinship carers, akin to adoption leave.
  • Increase access to therapeutic support for kinship children by removing the criteria of the Adoption and Special Guardianship Support Fund which specifies children must have been previously looked after, and increasing the ASGSF budget accordingly.

Lifelong Links for all care experienced young people 

We all need people to turn to for emotional and practical support – whether that is family, friends or neighbours. But too often these relationships are broken for children in care. Contact with wider family is often cut off, school friends are left behind and support networks are lost. It leaves care experienced young people isolated and at greater risk of difficulties in life. Our Lifelong Links approach supports children in care and care leavers to build a support network. It’s proven to lead to improvements in young people’s mental health, living arrangement stability, and a reduced risk of homelessness. Government funding has supported the extension of Lifelong Links but we have further to go to make sure it is an offer country wide.

Our detailed proposals set out how these changes could be implemented including the potential cost savings generated.

What is most clear is that the status quo is not an option. The costs of children’s social care are putting an ever greater strain on the public finances. Without change, we risk allowing more children to be taken into an overstretched children’s social care system. Research commissioned by leading children’s charities has already demonstrated the cost of delay has added £1 billion to the bill over the next ten years.

We urge you to take the opportunity of the Spring Budget to take further steps to change the trajectory of children and families in need of support.

Kind Regards,

Cathy Ashley OBE

Chief Executive

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