Somerset youth service cuts pose 'risk' to children

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Cuts to youth services pose a "very real risk" to children's safety, a Somerset County Council report says.

The Conservative-led county council is cutting the budget for the service by 73% over three years.

The authority's risk assessment said the cuts to so-called preventative work would put pressure on core services.

Councillor John Osman, responsible for children and young people, agreed there was a risk but said more money would be put into social care.

'Strip back'

The current youth service budget is just over £3m and will reduce to £1.5m from April 2011. There will be a further 25% reduction over the following two years.

The cuts mean an end to a wide range of work with children and their families that are aimed at avoiding the possibility of them being taken into care in the future.

Youth clubs, residential activities, training and volunteering opportunities will be reduced as a result of the council's cuts.

The council's risk assessment on making the cuts says: "There is a very real risk that the reduction in preventative work and early intervention across the service will lead, in time, to increased pressure on core services, quite apart from the sustained increase in demand felt locally and nationally.

"In turn this presents either a financial risk or a risk to children's safety."

'Belts and braces'

Mr Osman said: "Children's social care is the big story - a £27m spend - and we are putting an extra £3m into that area. Those children that are really in need of care and assistance are getting it.

"Above that you have children who may need a little bit of help in relation to other activities, not at risk of life or limb or anything like that, but those children who need a little bit more time, a little bit more care in relation to activities for them to do.

"Those are the areas we're having to strip back on."

He said youth services in the most deprived areas would be retained but said there was a risk more children could end up in crisis.

Mr Osman added: "It is a risk, I won't deny that.

"Obviously if you have a complete belts and braces system in place there are children that can be identified at an earlier stage.

"However we still have some targeted services in place. It's not as if we're going from 100% to nothing at all.

"I'm confident we will still have the resources in place to make sure we don't get into any of those critical situations or anything like that.

"I've been asked by central government to find the efficiency savings and I'm trying to identify areas that will cause least worry, least harm."

The council voted through £43m of cuts on 10 November.

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