We are calling for a cross-Government strategy for children and young people to ensure they are at the heart of the national recovery and can thrive, no matter where they are from or their background.
- Over the past 15 months, children and young people have made huge sacrifices after experiencing major disruption to their education and losing out on time with their friends and wider family.
- Not only are young people having to cope with significant social and educational challenges, they are also struggling with their mental health in increasing numbers, and some have had to live in homes with domestic abuse taking place. Young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) have been particularly affected by repeated lockdowns and school disruption during the pandemic.
- It has been welcome to see the Government working to ensure the needs children and young people are prioritised throughout this turbulent period. This has included their work on ensuring that children can access education where it has been safe to do so and their work on the programme to support the most vulnerable children in communities across England.
- For their part, councils have worked hard with schools on education recovery during COVID-19 to ensure that no child is left behind, and have helped Government to distribute millions of pounds of funding to support young people and families in need, from food parcels and vouchers, to IT equipment to help vulnerable children learn online. Councils have also organised holiday activities and kept parks open wherever possible to give children vital opportunities to play.
- The LGA has raised concerns of instances where Government departments have not aligned their objectives, including their child-focused campaigns, which have left councils unclear which campaign to prioritise or how they supported each other. This ultimately risks not delivering better outcomes for children, young people and families.
- To address these challenges, we are calling for a cross-Government strategy for children and young people to ensure they are at the heart of the national recovery and can thrive, no matter where they are from or their background. We are also calling for the introduction of ‘children and young people impact assessments’ to ensure that the needs of children are central to all new policies and legislation.
- As noted in our Child-Centred Recovery policy paper and our conference report Build Back Local, a greater join-up across Government could help to improve outcomes for families, while better data sharing across government would help councils ensure that more disadvantaged and disabled children are accessing their full early education entitlements. It would mean that initiatives, such as integrated care systems, deliver better opportunities for children and would also help local government look at how they could make sure children are growing up in high quality homes close to good schools, their family and friends.
- As we look to the future, it is vital that national and local government works together in partnership as we look to recover from the pandemic and learn to live with COVID-19.
Children’s services were already under strain prior to the pandemic and those pressures have been exacerbated by COVID-19. In order to recover, we need to not only address the immediate impacts of the pandemic, but to tackle existing issues to build resilient services that can properly meet the needs of children and families.
Last year the LGA published its child-centred recovery report which outlines our ambitions for a child-centred recovery, drawing together every aspect of policy and service delivery to create the places people want to live in and plan for the future.
In the report, we note our key priorities as:
- a cross-Whitehall strategy that puts children and young people at the heart of recovery
- investment in local safety nets and the universal and early help services, including mental health and wellbeing services, that children, young people and their families will need to support them through the short and long-term impacts of the pandemic
- dedicated action to prevent the attainment gap from widening, including immediate work to stabilise the early years sector and support children and young people to attend school or to continue learning from home where required.
Build Back Local
More recently, the LGA published its conference paper Build Back Local which gives a resident-centred view of local services and explore the future journeys our residents will be taking, demonstrating that our communities will need councils and the services they provide more than ever, as we look to build back from the devastating impacts of the pandemic. For children and young people, we are calling on the Government to:
- invest in preventative and early help services
- develop a cross-Whitehall strategy putting children and young people at the heart of recovery
- reform the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) system and recognise council’s role in education.
Examples of the challenges facing cross-government working
Supporting Families programme (was Troubled Families programme)
- The re-launch of the programme, which included a name-change, highlighted the benefits of partnership working at a local level. The most recent evaluation programme has demonstrated the benefits of taking a co-ordinated, multi-agency approach to preventative services, and focusing on the interactions between underlying factors that impact on outcomes. The evaluation found that outcomes were improved both by providing extra support to families alongside statutory services for families with multiple complex needs and through intervening earlier with less complex families to address issues before they get worse.
- However, it was less clear on join-up across Government departments. We think there are a number of key areas where join-up could be emphasised, for example: Department for Education (DfE) on supporting vulnerable children (particularly those left behind by school closures); Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) on poverty prevention, welfare support and employment programmes; Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) on insecure employment and working with employers; Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) on homelessness.
The childcare element of Universal Credit
- The childcare element of Universal Credit is vital to support parents into work or to help them to increase their hours and move out of poverty. However, claimants must pay costs upfront and claim back up to 85 per cent of what they have paid. This can be a significant amount of money to pay in advance. It would be helpful for the DWP and DfE to work together to enable the upfront payment of childcare costs, for example by direct invoice to the DWP by the provider.
- Access to and take up of good quality early education can be an important factor in improving social mobility and long-term educational outcomes. It would be helpful if the DWP could work more closely with DfE on childcare issues, for example ensuring councils are provided with lists of children eligible for Early Years Pupil Premium and the Disability Access Fund to ensure that all children are able to access early years places along with the support they need to thrive in their settings.
Tackling child abuse
- In December 2020, the Home Office and DfE departments launched their own campaigns around tackling child abuse within a day of each other, with neither campaign referencing the other. (“Something’s not right” from the Home Office and “Together, we can tackle child abuse” from the DfE). This caused significant confusion amongst councils, who were keen to support each campaign’s objectives but were unclear which campaign to prioritise or how they supported each other.