Children's services - Group Leader's Comment - 6 April 2018

I hope you had a good Easter break and are looking forward to the warmer weather and hot elections for some.

As you know, we offer peer support for general enquiries and the Group office ([email protected]) may well be able to assist with advice. We are here to help you.

In Wales last week, speaking about local government at the Plaid Cymru conference and to Independent members, I was asked for better recognition of Welsh issues in first magazine. (For example, the re-emergence of pressure to merge authorities and support needed for rural economies post-Brexit.) I met with the editor and raised this with her, suggesting a regular column. I also made sure our Independent Group members are getting their fair share of coverage. You may have received an email this week asking your views on the First Magazine; this is a good opportunity to push home our cause. If you haven't received your email about the survey, please contact [email protected].

Last spring, we succeeded in making the case for £2 billion additional funding for adult social care, and we are now working on getting better support, still desperately needed for councils to run good children's services. The Early Intervention Grant has reduced by almost £500 million since 2013 and is projected to drop by a further £183 million by 2020. So far, rather than just giving councils the money they need to do the job, the Government has taken a more centralist approach, and picked out smaller specific projects to promote. There seems to be a lot happening just now and a good opportunity for you to influence it for the better. In Wales, this service is devolved to the Welsh Assembly, but there are of course, similar pressures and some similar solutions.

Many councils have a long term programme of helping more children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) attend a local school, even closing some special schools. Transporting young children long distances daily, sometimes an hour each way by taxi to a specialist school, clearly has its drawbacks. However, the Government has just announced it is building 14 new special free schools with up to 200 places each, centrally controlled and outside council authorities. The councils remain responsible for children in free schools, but without matching funding and with diminished powers.

Ofsted inspects SEND provision in councils, as well as children’s services and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspects adult social care provision. The Department for Education is also directly funding parent-carer forums at £4.6 million over two years. There is a school self-review tool online and a national SEND helpline.

The LGA Children and Young People Board has set up a cross-party task and finish group focusing on SEND. Independent Member Councillor Gillian Ford is chairing the group, who will be launching their report at the National Children and Adult Services Conference 2018.

The LGA has so far got £2 million for children’s services improvement through sector-led support working with the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (SOLACE) to ensure our councils are achieving the best we can with the resources we have and identifying significant gaps.

As you will know, children's mental health has long been underfunded, often with long waiting times for urgent support. Getting it wrong for children in their formative years has huge knock-on costs both for the families and communities, and naturally costs us more in the long run. Under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989, councils have the power to intervene when children are in need, which is widely defined. We have the power, but not the funds. There is a consultation out now where your voice could assist. With the support of the Children and Young People Lead Members, the LGA has launched the Bright Futures campaign, prioritising children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing.

School exclusions have increased over the past few years, disproportionately affecting groups from different ethnic backgrounds, children on free school meals, with special needs and looked after children. From your experience locally, why do you think this is and what should be done about it? The Government is asking for your views now.

You may like to recommend application for a grant from a £4 million fund to support innovative alternative provision in your area, before 22 April.

Following the consultation on children in out-of-school settings, there is now non-statutory guidance on how to help keep these children safe and appropriately educated.

You may also like to encourage your council to look at the data analysis for children in need and contribute examples of commissioned support that worked or didn't work. It would also be helpful for me and our group to know where we have members who can speak about examples of good practice locally.

Creating opportunities for children to mix with other groups is part of the Integrated Communities Strategy Green Paper now out for consultation before 5 June. Your comments are welcome.

Many thanks indeed to all our contributing members and to our LGA officers.