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Does Funding Deliver On Children’s Rights In Practice, Not Just In Principle?

Does funding deliver on children’s rights in practice, not just in principle?

Open access paper of importance: ‘More Money, More Problems? Addressing the Funding Conditions Required for Rights-Based Child Welfare Services in England’
Callum Webb is an independent knowledgeable and experienced researcher who interrogates original sources of evidence.
His publications are a rich resource.
The focus for this paper.
Are methods used to allocate funding working to create the conditions needed to deliver on children’s rights in practice, not just in principle?
This article has this as its last sentence
 ‘No society that willingly fails to create the conditions required to meet the rights of children laid out in their legislation can claim to promote child welfare or the rights of the child.’
Immediately before is this sentence
 ‘The process of determining and allocating funding should be reorientated towards our collective commitments to children’s rights, and protected from misalignments caused by fiscal policies and practices that can end up overriding and undermining them’.
The following research questions were explored

  • To what extent can the size of the child population, the proportion of children living in income deprived households, the proportion of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEN) plans, and the proportion of children not attaining ‘good’ levels of development at age 5, explain variation in spending in local services between 2011 and 2019?
  • How closely does variation in expenditure that cannot be explained by population size align with variation in these needs between 2011 and 2019?
  • How has the strength of association between each indicator of population needs and expenditure per child on services changed between 2011 and 2019?
  • Are residual, non-needs related components of expenditure per child higher or lower in more deprived local authorities?
Spending on children’s services in England has become increasingly dissociated from the underlying needs of, and obligations to, children over a decade characterised by public services retrenchment. Some of the reasons why this may be can be traced back to the interaction between austerity policies and technocratic features of funding formulas that undermine their capacity to distribute resources based on local populations. However, even in 2011, before austerity had truly ‘bitten’, underlying population needs were barely a predominant predictor of funding variation. As well as growing relative dissociation, the 2010 decade has also seen dramatic reductions in absolute levels of spending, with large amounts of expenditure unaccounted for by needs. Increasingly, the more problems local authorities experience, the less money they see; this is theorised to have contributed to growing regional inequalities in child welfare intervention and rising rates of children in the care system in England.
Four recommendations are proposed that could reverse this trend: 
  • the revision of funding formulas to bring their components in line with children’s rights to support based on their needs;
  • a robust evaluation of, and commitment to providing, the full costs required to finally meet the ambitions of the Children Act;
  • the removal of limits on gains from funding formulas, which disproportionately disadvantage places with growing needs or populations, or places that experience sudden shocks in need, a pertinent consideration in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • and the reversal of the run-down on central revenue grants which has also disproportionately disadvantaged services in deprived local authorities due to their smaller local tax bases.
The redistribution of funding from block or otherwise non-ringfenced grants between children’s services activities in contexts of inadequate resource and austerity appears to have imperilled some statutory obligations (e.g., duties to provide early help and family support to children in need under Section 17) in order to maintain others (such as the provision of social care or child protection). This fractures the spirit of the Children Act 1989 itself, which its architect Rupert Hughes described as being “designed to remind authorities that there is no sharp line between need and risk or between support and protection and that the services needed to be seen more as a continuum with a balanced provision targeted at the various degrees of need”.
The increasing obfuscation of technical decision making systems for the distribution of local authority funding in England is a barrier to accurately scrutinising the distribution of resources. Faced with these challenges, I propose there is value for researchers interested in child welfare inequality and its policy drivers in retrospectively analysing the association between variation in needs—which form the basis for service provision according to children’s rights—and variation in public provision. This can help us understand whether methods used to allocate funding are working to create the conditions needed to deliver on children’s rights in practice, not just in principle. However, this analysis only describes the relative picture; there has been little movement in research on the full and necessary costs of meeting the rights to support and services promised to children and families under the Children Act 1989. This evidence gap is especially important if the distance between what is needed and what is provided is even half the magnitude of that which was identified by Budlender and colleagues in South Africa 
This paper is all the more important in light of the recent figures created for the Care Review by Alma Economics. (Paying the price: The social and financial costs of children’s social care; also, Technical report The social cost of adverse outcomes of children who need a social worker).

Please follow this link to the Children Act Funding Formula paper (latest iteration for SR21), that was the genesis for the Calum Webb paper