A coalition of charities – The Children’s Society, Action for Children, Barnardo’s, National Children’s Bureau and the NSPCC – says councils have struggled with the impact of funding cuts, with many of the poorest areas hardest hit.
Research by Pro Bono Economics found spending on early intervention support – which prevents children from coming to harm – was about £36.3m in Nottinghamshire in 2020-21.
However, this was down 25 per cent since 2010-11 in real terms, effectively a fall of £12.3m in today's money.
It meant a real terms drop from £208 per child to £153.
Investment in early support services – which range from children’s centres and youth clubs, to targeted support with issues like drug and alcohol misuse – halved from £3.8 billion to £1.9bn in real terms across England over this period.
The charities said this has created a ‘vicious cycle’, where councils are forced to spend more on costly crisis support, leaving more children and young people exposed to risks like exploitation, neglect and mental ill-health.
Mark Russell, The Children’s Society chief executive, said: “Young people have told us they felt they needed to get hurt or harm someone in order be taken seriously.
“It’s a big concern that children in deprived areas, where needs may be greatest, are often among those least likely to get help before problems spiral out of control.
“If ministers are serious about Levelling Up they must better target funding to the areas that need it most."
Researchers found spending on crisis and late intervention services rose from £6bn to £8.2bn in real terms across England over the decade.
In Nottinghamshire, this type of spending rose from £73.2m to £114m in real terms over this time.
Imran Hussain, Action for Children director of policy and campaigns, said: “Across political divides, there has been recognition of the value to communities and the public purse of investing in services that help individuals and families early, before more serious and more costly problems develop.
“The Government has to give local authorities the resources they need to invest in preventative services to stem the tide of children coming to harm before they’re helped.”
The charities are calling for the next Prime Minister to invest a minimum of £2.6bn extra in children’s social care, as recommended by the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, and for local authorities to be awarded extra funding in the next Chancellor’s first Budget.
A Government spokesman said: “We have made an additional £3.7bn available to councils this year alone to help them deliver key services and support families.
“We are backing families with better and earlier access to services that keep them safe and healthy, by expanding a network of Family Hubs all over England and increasing investment in the Supporting Families programme, which is helping to keep up to 300,000 families together safely and provide loving homes for children.”
Laurence Jones, Nottinghamshire Council service director for commissioning and resources, said: “We recognise the pressures on children’s services and agree with the need for effective early intervention, which is why, in Nottinghamshire, we have continued to prioritise the needs of children and families.
“The budget for children and family services in 2022/23 is £162m compared with £149m in the previous year.
“Nottinghamshire continues to have one of the, if not the, largest universally accessible youth services in the country, with hundreds of sessions each week delivered from 34 youth centres, additional targeted outreach youth sessions at evenings and weekends and an adventure and outdoor education offer.
“We are committed to helping families as early as possible to avoid problems from escalating and both the Government and the council have significantly invested in evidence-based approaches to family support, including £2.5m in 2022, from the Supporting Families programme aimed at helping vulnerable families bounce back from difficulties.
“The council has also identified an initial £1.1 million investment in a children’s services preventive programme we call whole family safeguarding, aimed at helping families and children early on, so their lives do not deteriorate to a point where they need intensive help.”