New research points to London’s ‘high-value, high-impact’ children’s services, as boroughs call for early intervention funding boost

  • By JackGraves

New research from London Councils highlights the life-changing impact that early intervention has on the most vulnerable young people in the capital – while warning that a £185 million funding shortfall puts crucial services at risk.

The umbrella group’s evaluation of children’s social care and special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) provision in the capital points to the value of investing in preventative services that stem future demand for more expensive services.

For example, several boroughs are investing in expert SEND practitioners who help schools maintain children with more challenging needs in a mainstream setting. There are also boroughs targeting early help for children considered to be at risk of poor outcomes such as gang affiliation and becoming victims or perpetrators of crime, providing support to their families and pre-empting the need for costly interventions.    

However, despite the progress made in boosting preventative approaches, fast-rising demand for children’s services in London outstrips the level of resource available to boroughs.

London Councils’ key research findings include:

  • There is strong evidence from across London that boroughs’ good-quality early intervention services prevent needs escalating and lead to better outcomes for children and young people.


  • In SEND, there has been a dramatic and sustained rise in demand for support brought about by a very rapid increase in children and young people with Education Health and Care Plans (up 31% from 2014/15 to 2017/18). While budgets have increased, spending has increased faster – leaving London boroughs with an in-year shortfall in 2017/18 of £77 million.


  • In children’s social care, the overspend in 2017/18 was £108 million. Increased complexity of children’s needs and use of specialist care placements are believed to be among the factors explaining the rapidly rising costs.  


  • London boroughs face particularly significant unfunded cost pressures in caring for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC). As London is a main destination for these children, boroughs have been disproportionately affected by the rising number of UASC cases (a 53% increase in London from 2014/15 to 2017/18) while government funding has failed to keep pace.


  • Future government spending decisions must ensure early intervention is adequately funded – particularly considering that government funding for the Troubled Families programme is due to end in 2020. Without the continuation of the Troubled Families grant, boroughs will see their ability to provide early help significantly diminished.


Cllr Nickie Aiken, London Councils’ Executive Member for Schools & Children’s Services, said:

“The value of preventative services shines through these research findings, both in terms of positive impact on the lives of London’s most vulnerable children and young people and helping boroughs manage costs.

“When children and families aren’t getting the right support at the right time, the effects can be disastrous – leaving children and young people vulnerable to family breakdown and involvement in youth crime.

“London boroughs are committed to early intervention as the most cost-effective approach in the long term with the best results for children and families. However, we’re working in a context of fast-rising levels of demand for services while budgets are flatlining, with the result that we’re left to cope with an unsustainable annual funding shortfall of £185 million.

“London faces extremely challenging pressures, but we know local authorities around the country are in similar financial difficulties. The government needs to boost investment in children’s services in line with councils’ rising costs. That’s the only way to ensure the sustainability of the high-value, high-impact local services that make such a difference to children’s lives.”




Notes to editors:

  1. The research was conducted on behalf of London Councils by Isos Partnership, an independent research consultancy. The research covered quantitative data analysis of boroughs’ funding and expenditure on high needs and social care, as well as qualitative fieldwork in numerous boroughs.


  1. The Troubled Families Programme is working to achieve significant and sustained progress with up to 400,000 families with multiple, high-cost problems by 2020. This is backed by £920 million of government investment. The programme is run from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and managed by upper tier local authorities in England and their partners.