Helen Armitage’s Speech on Children’s Service during Budget debate

In July last year, a DfE report looked into cost effectiveness and value for money of children’s centres and showed the link between the services offered and reductions in public spending on truancy, school exclusions, special educational needs, youth and adult crime, mental health problems, and welfare benefits.

The report also highlighted the link between use of children’s centres and higher educational attainment and higher future earnings for the children and their parents.

Children’s centres have the potential to make a massive difference to the lives of children and their families, yet across Suffolk there are areas where families simply can’t access these highly valuable services.

The DfE report clearly states that ‘the benefit of children’s centres in monetary terms has the greatest impact on the public purse in terms of future savings to required spending’.

Children’s centres are a resource that should be increased and built upon to save the council money in the future, we need to invest in them and the children that use them as one of the most cost efficient services that we can offer.

In December, we brought you evidence showing how respite care and a ‘Short Breaks’ service for families with children on the edge of care can and is saving councils millions of pounds a year through reducing the number of children in care, not to mention helping to improve the futures of countless children and their families.

We, as a council, agreed that it would be investigated as a measure to bring down demand for Children & Young People services and to make savings, but this doesn’t appear to be included on the budget.

I hope that I’m wrong and there is a ring-fenced amount of reserves to operate this service if it is proved suitable and cost effective for Suffolk.

As it stands, the Family Assessment Support Team is our only service dedicated to reducing the number of children in care, yet in January this year it was reported that the team is attempting to operate with half of its social worker posts vacant.

We understand the difficulties in recruiting social workers and that we have about 30 social worker vacancies across Suffolk, but it is hard for us to believe that you are serious about reducing demand for children’s services when the early intervention services that we have to do this are simply not working properly.

The budget that the administration has presented to us seems far too concerned with short term cuts and goals, when we need to be thinking long term in order to make the services sustainable.

There is overwhelming evidence produced by independent and government groups showing how preventative and early intervention services are more cost effective in the long run, but we seem to be stuck in a cycle of short term measures and short sighted cuts.

We need to stop thinking in terms of 2-3 years down the line and invest now in preventative and early intervention services to save the County Council money in the longer term future.

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