Charity roundtable forum: Industry professionals tackle charity sector challenges

Published by Susan Robinson on 16 April 2024

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A small team from Kreston Reeves and Brachers were privileged to sit down with charity leaders working in the children’s sector. Our aim was to consider the challenges being faced by the sector, and maybe start the rocky road to finding a solution – we can all dream!

Current challenges facing the children’s charity sector

Let’s start by setting the scene.

Hardly a day goes by when there is not an update on TV about the lack of support or care for children, often exacerbated by local government cuts in funding. However, the charities that in the past picked up the slack are now being asked to do more, whilst facing their own funding crisis. Staffing issues facing many industries in the country are also affecting charities. The number of children in crisis has increased following the pandemic but also because of the society we now live in.

Access to support and where to find it

One of the first problems identified in our discussions was access to support. Where do you go when there is a problem? Those around the table did collaborate but they were not aware of all the resources available to help signpost families. The local authority has a portal but although some found this useful it was felt it was not fit for purpose and those looking for support were not always aware it existed. It was felt that there was a lack of knowledge within statutory professionals and a reliance on word of mouth. It was suggested that a new portal independent of local government could be set up to help access support and give collaborative advice. However, this would require funding to set up and, more importantly, be kept up to date.

What was clearly clear from our discussions, was the amount of collaboration currently happening in the sector and the willingness to continue and expand on this.

Fundraising and staffing

Fundraising by the sector was mentioned as a problematic area. It is difficult to source fundraisers let alone be able to finance their employment. Securing staff continues to be a challenge. The short-term nature of funding means that jobs are not secure. Employees have their own bills to pay, and they need to earn a suitable salary. The uncertainty of contracts not continuing and staff having to ensure they can fund their own commitments can result in them taking up more stable employment. This impacts on both the care for the child and the charity’s cost in recruiting and training new employees. Continuity is important for children. There are not enough people with the correct expertise that are able to provide a pro bono service, despite what society and the government think or expect.

Government contracts

This moves the conversation onto government contracts, which tend to be 3 years or more in length, with a possible 2 extra years (the latter not being known until almost the end of the initial term). Which begs the question – why are private sector contracts for up to 10 years? Children need continuity of care and support. Many children services are not just for 3 years Contracts should be between 5 and 10 years, enabling relationships to be developed and appropriate services to be delivered.

Local authorities

The local authorities have their own staffing issues which means charities and parents don’t know who they are dealing with, making it difficult to build a relationship. It was felt commissioners need to change their approach when dealing with the sector. It was queried whether the people preparing the specification had knowledge of the service they are getting.

Problems often arise when referrals are out of area, be that with funding or service delivery. Delays can lead to care not being provided when needed and children losing out. It is often difficult to meet requests from out of area, as individual charities may have geographical restrictions even if they have the specialist knowledge.

Societal considerations

Another question was, has society let down those in need? Do children and parents have all the support they need? Children centres have largely gone and with them training for parents. Introducing social care at early years to help prevent future issues is a lot cheaper than dealing with later problems. The numbers and complexity of children with difficulties is increasing, hence any government will have the dilemma of dealing with the current situation that has developed or helping the next generation coming through.

There is a concern that with local authorities only providing statutory services, some early services may soon disappear. With the election looming this year, social care and education will become political footballs. They need to be ‘Apolitical’ with all parties coming together to build a long-term strategy. Society also needs to take responsibility; it is not government money that is being spent, it is our money that we pay through taxes. If we want more then we may need to pay more through tax, donations, or in-kind support. The sector wants to work together providing appropriate support and collaboration, but they can’t do it on their own.

What did we conclude from our discussions?

Unfortunately, there is not an immediate solution, but the governmental policy of tinkering is not working. We need a longer-term strategy based on an understanding of the problem – not just something to influence votes. To deliver appropriate service the sector needs longer term contracts. We need more understanding of what services are available and parents need to know where to go to find out more information. We need to refocus on supporting parents in the early years to reduce future problems. We need to recognise children are individuals and the society “norm” is not suitable for everyone. Not everyone needs to get GCSEs in Maths and English. Finally, we all, as a society, need to take responsibility for the sort of country we want to live in.

To find out more about the challenges facing the charity sector, and the services available to help overcome these challenges, please contact us today.

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