Children England believes that we don't have to be big; we just have to be brilliant.

We strive to synthesise the experiences and expertise of the children and families voluntary sector into ideas and campaigns for systemic change that will put children at the heart of society. If you haven’t read about our current strategic goals, you can do so here.

Whilst we have in the past had government funding to deliver free training and resources for the voluntary sector, with regional staff and a nationwide reach, the 2013 cut to our statutory funding coincided with a call from our membership to prioritise sector advocacy over traditional infrastructure support. We still offer good value training courses, plenty of online resources for members and non-members, and events to gather and share knowledge around the sector. But our focus is on articulating clearly and unapologetically the pressures on children’s services and on children themselves, championing good practice and providing the ideas and thought-leadership that will bring professionals and decision-makers together to bring about change.

Our impact on these big policy issues is necessarily gradual and diffuse, and only achieved by working in partnership with many different people and organisations. Our formal research and reports, our expert working groups and policy proposals, our facilitation of discussion and consensus across the sector, as well as our speeches and interviews to the media and professional conferences – all contribute to change the discourse and inspire action.

Below is an example of how we can chart our cumulative impact on policy discourse over the last eight years.

Children’s services funding

We have been in the vanguard of creating a sea-change in the consensus on funding for children’s services, from early stages where our voice was unique and quite challenging to the narrative within the sector, to our messages and analysis becoming more widely reflected in public, media and charity sector discourse.

Researching the early impact of austerity
In 2012 Children England published a groundbreaking modelling study of the ways in which the economic crash and subsequent austerity pressures were already (by the end of 2011) affecting the operating conditions for local children’s services - both charitable and statutory. It was called Perfect Storms and continues to be referenced in charity and children’s services circles today. The diagram of ‘Locality Storms’ is now being used by Directors of Children’s Services and the Early Intervention Foundation in more  recent presentations of the challenges facing local statutory and voluntary partners in their duties. Perfect Storms concluded that continued cuts to local authority funding, and how the ecosystem of community services for children was responding to budget cuts already, would result inevitably in the steady erosion of early intervention capacity and rising numbers of children and families reaching crisis points and being taken into care – meaning that the long term effect of year-on-year cuts would be rising children’s services bills. We documented through case studies of our members how charities were having to spend more to get less income to meet more need. All of those trends and forces that we modeled and predicted have, unfortunately, proved over subsequent years to be true.

First to speak out from the children’s voluntary sector
In terms of the wider sector, warnings first started to come from the Local Government Association (May 2014) and ADCS (Jan 2015) about funding cuts to children’s services. We are the only charity quoted alongside each of them in the contemporary CYP Now coverage, as the only sector voice with an established research and policy platform sounding such a strong voice of systemic alarm at that time. CYP Now brought together views on what the autumn 2015 spending review meant for services, including our CEO Kathy as one of the leading sector voices.

Describing systemic problems (not bad apples)
In the wake of the collapse of Kids Company in 2015, Children England used nationwide broadcast and print media platforms as an important reactive opportunity to educate the public and the media not only about the fact that Kids Company was not representative of all children’s charities, but also about the true scale, breadth and nature of children’s charity sector activity, raising alarm at the sustained impact and severity of cuts right across the country. Immediately following Kathy’s appearance on Radio 4, the Department for Education commissioned an emergency snapshot study of the state of council children’s services funding – aiming to contribute to the 2015 Spending Review already well underway, but in the end not completed until some time after the Spending Review.

Warning against managerial changes when investment is what’s needed
After the 2015 Spending Review for children was published, Children England was the first sector body (statutory or voluntary) to publicly call out the Spending Review’s devastating impact for councils and for children. Kathy described the Prime Minister’s plans to academise failing children’s services as being ‘like deckchair rearrangement on a fleet of torpedoed ships’, even while many other sector voices  publicly welcomed the plans. When the now-bankrupt Northamptonshire Council announced its plans to outsource its children’s services to improve efficiency, Kathy was the only voice in the media publicly warning that it was financial folly.

Issuing an early warning on further cuts
In late 2016, after working with the National Audit Office on their latest children’s services audit, and still some time before many councils or Directors of Children’s Services were willing to admit there was a nationwide systemic crisis, Children England issued a clarion call on the perilous crisis in the care system and the fact that it was rooted in steep formula grant cuts (the main funding from central to local government) that had been clearly detailed in the Spending Review without any consideration of their impact on children.

Creating and communicating clear, radical solutions
In 2016 we also began making our radical ideas for care commissioning and funding reform public and using them to frame discussions for reform with members, government officials and OFSTED.

Awareness even amongst professionals in local services of the government’s plan to end formula grants to councils by 2020 was extremely low. We launched our Don’t Take Child Protection for Granted campaign to raise public awareness in May 2017 in the week of the snap general election, and through the huge sector support we received for raising and explaining the problem in clear infographic form, we were able to co-produce the Children Act Funding Formula idea with a diverse virtual team of charity and social work experts in law and practice, academics and financial consultants. This continues to be our priority policy solution in our submissions and dialogue with government as we approach the Spending Review 2019 and the outcomes of the Fair Funding Review for council finance.

The children’s sector rallies behind the message on funding
By the Budget in November 2018 our clear messaging on spending and our repeated use of the #ChildrenAtHeart umbrella theme for our general election campaigning in both 2015 and 2017 [NCVO cited our 2017 general election campaigning as one of their Top Ten] had created a narrative the wider sector was keen to emulate. We were happy to join the unprecedented rainbow coalition campaign of over 140 charities in the #ChildrenAtTheHeart campaign, united in calling on government to put children at the heart of their spending plans. This campaign is not ours, it is a genuine collective effort led by the National Children’s Bureau – but we are confident it would not have been framed in the same way, or have found such widespread common ground across so many charities and different interests, if we hadn’t been pushing the debate when no-one else was, building the narrative and evidence base, and offering a range of successive campaign vehicles for people to share and join in with, consistently since we published Perfect Storms in 2012.

Providing analysis to mainstream news coverage
This very thorough coverage of council cuts by the BBC at the end of December 2018 might not have happened without all of the above. Having worked closely with them on the analysis, our CEO being one of the only experts quoted in the piece offers an indication of the leading influence we have had on informing and framing the public and media understanding about the children’s services crisis.

Communicating the bigger picture
We have always been clear that it takes a village to raise a child – and that those communities rely on an interdependent network of services, not all of which are statutory and not all of which would be termed ‘children’s services’. In repeated submissions to the growing number of inquiries into social care funding by government committees and agencies, we have emphasised that it is policy across government that is driving the cycle of deprivation, decimation of services and increasingly deep and complex need amongst families: cross-government co-operation is needed to address it. As our ChildFair State inquiry shows, we believe a re-design of the whole welfare state we all rely on is necessary.

So we were very glad to contribute to the inquiry into children’s services funding by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, and describe not only the impact of welfare caps on families, and council cuts on services, but the importance of social infrastructure – all the non children’s services that the voluntary and public sectors provide that, when thriving, help families thrive, and when missing, leave families struggling and isolated. In her oral evidence in February 2019, Kathy also emphasised that it is not only greater and more fairly distributed investment that is needed for public services, but a reform of the care 'marketplace', which is unsustainable and "driven by cost control rather than by the right place for this child".

The resulting report of the Committee draws extensively on Children England contributions, and brings together the systemic issues we've been highlighting more clearly than any parliamentary report yet. It recommends the Department for Education explore proposals like our national Care Bank, quotes our call for a Children Act Funding Formula and urges the government to invest £3.1 billion of core grant funding in local children's services to address current pressures.

Read our response to the report.