In nature, a perfect storm is a meteorological event where a number of separate weather‐ related phenomena combine to create a storm of unusual magnitude. We suggest that two such ‘storms’ are currently engulfing the children, young people and families voluntary and community sector. In each case, individual factors, occurring simultaneously are leading to outcomes that are often worse than the sum of their parts. This paper analyses each of the storms in turn, highlighting their key features and internal dynamics before illustrating with case studies.  

The report is based on in depth interviews with over 50 voluntary and community sector leaders and staff from local authority children’s services departments as well as feedback from the wider sector through Children England’s regional and national networks. It is not a representative survey or study of the health of the voluntary and community sector or of the welfare of children, young people and families in austerity Britain – it presents no new statistical data, but draws extensively on research evidence and statistics gathered by a wide range of colleagues, as well as the qualitative reports and case studies gathered from our contributors. Our aim is to portray the multi‐dimensional and ever‐moving nature of the challenging conditions in which many charities, public sector staff and service users find themselves. The report sets out two kinds of storm, one relating to the pressures on the internal business models of the voluntary and community sector as individual organisations, and the other examines the turbulences surrounding the interdependence of statutory and voluntary agencies at a local level. While not every charity or area will experience these storms exactly as set out, they are all subject to the same pressures and demands, albeit in different combinations and with varying intensity.  

Perfect Storms is primarily focussed on organisations rather than individuals, analysing intra‐  and inter‐agency dynamics instead of social outcomes. In part this is a natural result of Children England’s role as a membership body seeking to represent the work and experiences of the voluntary sector serving children, young people and families. However, the principal motivation for orientating the report in this way is that these important perspectives have been left largely untouched by the wealth of recent research and literature on the financial crisis, charities and the population. This is not to say that the changing lives of children, young people and families are unimportant in this study; they are at the heart of every charity still working so hard to navigate the current storms. Rather, we believe that it is only through a holistic analysis that it is possible to truly understand the current situation for statutory and voluntary service providers and community groups. Without such an understanding, proposed policy solutions are likely to at best treat the symptoms and at worst could aggravate their causes. As such, although children, young people and families may not always appear to be central to Perfect Storms, they have been at the forefront of Children England’s mind, and those of our interviewees, throughout this piece of work.

In producing this picture‐building analysis we hope to enable all those who share an interest in the value and survival of the voluntary sector’s work with children, young people and families, whatever their current role, position or sector, to come to a more nuanced and shared understanding of the distinctive nature of the sector’s sub‐economy as well as the challenges it faces in 2012 and for the foreseeable future. By facing up to the sometimes frightening, true nature of the current prevailing storms, our belief is that we will be able to work better together across sectors; to discern that which is inevitable about our current conditions, and must simply be weathered or adapted to, from that which could be open to change by focussed attention, policy intervention or pragmatic effort.

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