AT just 16 years old, Danielle, from the North East, ended up homeless.

Danielle had been living with her father whose addiction and mental health issues meant he could not give her the support she needed. Three years later, Danielle told the House of Lords Public Services Committee where things went wrong.

At one point up to 15 people were working with Danielle, from social services to mental health agencies. But she only ever got short term help. “I was on a child protection plan one minute and the next they said I didn’t need one. I was really let down by all these services,” Danielle told us.

My committee has just published a report, "Children in crisis: the role of public services in overcoming child vulnerability" – about how children like Danielle, without targeted help, are at risk of significant harm.

Danielle's story is sadly far from uncommon. Estimates from the Children’s Commissioner’s Office reveal that in 2019, up to 829,000 children like her were completely invisible to services, receiving no support.

More than one million children are growing up in England with reduced life chances with the most disadvantaged communities disproportionately affected.

The Covid-19 pandemic made matters worse, but the situation was already dire before March last year. Since 2010, local authority annual spending on early intervention programmes (such as Sure Start and children’s centres or youth services) has been slashed by £1.7bn in real terms – almost by half.

Those cuts were not spread evenly across the country. Durham, for example, saw spending reduced by up to 66 per cent. Overall, up to 45 per cent of the reductions were in areas of England that already had the highest levels of child poverty

Meanwhile, more money has been invested in later interventions like youth justice or safeguarding which are often costlier.

This isn’t the right approach. In its own Early Years Review, the Government concluded that the first 1,001 days of life from conception to age two are critical. Public services should support families as early as possible, instead of waiting for them to reach crisis point.

Our committee is therefore calling on the Government to act urgently to address what can only be described as a crisis in child vulnerability. They should introduce a long-overdue national strategy with appropriate funding for early intervention programmes like Family Hubs, for example, which provide centralised access to local services like parenting advice and addiction counselling.

The Government’s Spending Review pledged £492m in investment for early intervention services over the next three years. This is a welcome but must be seen for what it is: only a start. It will not make up for that £1.7bn annual loss.

It isn’t just about money: public services need to be reformed to ensure that no child is forgotten. This means integrating services like health and education to enable better cooperation, and reforming obsolete data-sharing practices that too often lead to vulnerable children slipping through the gaps of the system. It means building bridges between the public sector and the voluntary sector, which is often vulnerable families’ first point of contact. And it means holding local authorities accountable for inequalities in children’s outcomes.

Now the Government and providers of public services must step up to help children like Danielle live a better life. This is where levelling up should start.

  • Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top, who was MP for North West Durham from 1987 to 2010, is the chair of the House of Lords Public Services Committee