Children's social care: the case for early intervention


By Lisa Forster, Lead Advisor CIPFA Children’s Services Network

Children’s social care is a politically sensitive and emotive area. Yet under the austerity measures, it has seen increased demand, to be met by a smaller pool of funding. Department for Education (DfE) Statistics show over the past three years, referrals to children’s social care have risen steadily, a growth of 12.43 per cent from 2008/09 to 2010/11.  The reasons why demand is increasing needs to be examined – and, if possible, the causes addressed – in order to stem the rising tide.

Early intervention and demand management are two areas that may provide inroads into this issue. Both consider that the supply side of efficiency is now not enough, and that we must redesign services and change behaviours to reduce demand by empowering ‘customers’  in their current and long term positions.

Return on investment

One of the ways we can do this is through increased investment in prevention and early intervention. The Eileen Munro review ‘A Child Centred System’ noted the growing body of evidence of the effectiveness of early intervention with children and families. Action for Children have echoed this and demonstrated that their targeted family intervention work showed that for every £1 invested in this service, returns of between £4 and £10 were produced.

The 2011 Allen ’Next Steps’ review makes the case for investment in prevention and early intervention clear, stating:

‘early intervention to promote social and emotional development can significantly improve mental and physical health, educational attainment and employment opportunities. It can also help to prevent criminal behaviour (especially violent behaviour), drug and alcohol misuse and teenage pregnancy’.

One of the recent national programmes is the troubled families’ programme, which has claimed some early success in reducing long term reactive costs to families’ problems.

The cost of doing nothing

Although there is an upfront cost of early intervention and prevention, the cost of doing nothing could lead to greater financial pressures in the future.  The Relationships Foundation has published Counting the Costs of Family Failure, which showed that in 2012 the cost of family failure to the public purse was £44bn. They look at five component areas:

  1. tax and benefits
  2. housing
  3. health and social care
  4. civil and criminal justice, and
  5. education and young people – not in education, employment, or training (NEET).

and conclude that the four year trend shows that, without exception, costs were higher for each component area in 2012 than in previous years. They conclude that ‘this burden is unsustainable in any economic climate, let alone the current one. It can only be reduced by supporting and encouraging relationships’.

One of the difficulties of investing in early intervention is that the financial benefits may not come back to the services that fronted the original investment. This silo culture can prevent worthwhile schemes getting off the ground, and is one which the community place-based budget pilots aim to resolve.

Another barrier can be the difficulty in not only producing business plans, but also persuading others that early intervention is a solid investment. One critical issue is that outcomes from early intervention do not manifest themselves in specified time periods, some are long term, and many are uncertain.

Early intervention works

Yet despite this, evidence from many government reviews and children’s services bodies suggest that early intervention schemes are credible, and are even essential mechanisms in improving certain children’s and families prospects in the short, medium and long term.  

Robust costings and forecasts, that can be used to demonstrate predicted savings, are essential components of any ‘invest to save’ business plan. Cost calculators and cost benefit analysis are ideal tools to use in justifying early intervention projects.

The CIPFA Developments in Children's Services Finance Conference on 20 March will include speakers who have designed cost calculators to support the case for business plans in this area and also authorities who have managed to control costs in children’s social care whilst maintaining positive outcomes.  

  • Many of the issues in the article above were explored at the CIPFA Developments in Children's Services Finance Conference on 20 March 2014 in London.   

Lisa Forster, Principal Consultant | LinkedIn Profile

Lisa Forster, Principal Consultant

Lisa is a CIPFA qualified accountant, and has worked for the institute since 2008. She joined as a finance advisor in CIPFA Networks, and more recently moved across to the advisory team. Her two areas of expertise are in education finance, particularly academy accounts and assurance, and also in local government transformation around the consideration of alternative service delivery models.

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