I don’t have a crystal ball and I cannot exactly pin point what the future will hold for our children. Who would have thought that we would be in the middle of a pandemic. However, right now the Government focus is on education and the most vulnerable children in our society. Now, I am not going to expand on political decisions over the past 10 years and how the changes to children’s services have impacted on the current offer for children and families. We know that it has. Evidence and research demonstrates that the gap between our poorest and richest in society is only widening, impacting on those children who live in socially disadvantaged areas.
However, my blog is looking into the future, hitting on some of the things mentioned above but refocusing the need for a change, now more than ever. Before we went into lockdown, due to Covid-19, many of the services available to families were scarce or non-existent at best. You only have to take into account the local authority that I live in, as an example. I still live in the area that I was bought up in and yes it has its problems, but I am proud of my community and feel very much at home. Social disadvantage is still prevalent and one where services for these families in the north of the borough have closed or only are available when such families have hit crisis. Schools and Early Years settings however are doing a tremendous job and picking up much of the Early Help offerings. There are no Early Intervention Services, Youth Services and outcomes for children are low, with the assumption from some that our children and families have low expectations. Therefore, with social housing, limited access to Early Help Services and lack of investment for these children and families, it is no wonder there is a crisis where families are going without, anti social behaviour is rising and this is compounded by a lack of resources. It has got me thinking about those families and children currently within my local area. I have been speaking to some of them at my local supermarket. They are coping well, schools remain open and so are the Early Years settings but that remains it. What I mean by ‘they are coping well’ is that they have no other benchmark to baseline there lived experiences against at this difficult time.
I am trying to highlight here that there are many examples of people thinking that this is all that they have. What I do know is that the dynamics of a community can make a huge impact on families’ daily lives, the support that already exists, and the gaps in services that impact on social disadvantage. Many services across the UK have been managing to support the most disadvantaged families that are in need of limited resources and man power, having professionals on the ground to help. Simply, some families just need a helping hand at times. However, what Covid-19 has demonstrated is that we physically do not have the physical capacity in Early Help Services. All local authorities have cut back these Early Intervention Services to save money, with dwindling investment from central government.
So my question is this – ‘Does the Government need to rethink its universal approach to Early Help services?’
My opinion at this current time is yes. Let’s take a look at the Every Child Matters Agenda.
If you work with children, or you’re a parent, then you may well have come across mentions of the Every Child Matters policy. But in simple terms, what exactly was it and what did it mean?
The Every Child Matters policy was thought up and implemented by New Labour. It was launched in 2003, but there was a significant movement away from it in 2010 under David Cameron and the Coalition Government. Instead, the Government returned to child health checks via health visitors and social workers. Today, this is also delivered through ‘safeguarding’ organisations, who are under an obligation to ensure that the way they work with children keeps them safe and does not place them at unacceptable risk of harm. The Every Child Matters policy applied to the well-being of children and young people from birth up until they reached the age of 19. It was based on the idea that every child, regardless of their individual circumstances or background, should have plenty of support throughout their life. This takes me back to a time when investment was important. I may not be popular in saying this, but at the same time of investment there was also a lot of waste within the system. My point here is, do we need a working group to look into this strategy at a deeper level? Bringing charities, education, social care and health, parents and children together to put a strategy in place to support after this catastrophic pandemic.
Well, I think that we need to put the ECM behind us and think about what it is we are trying to achieve. I still fundamentally believe that there is room, now more than ever, for a White Paper from Government to bring services closer together. The political parties need to come together on this one, speaking at the highest level to regain some ambition for our children. It can’t be just about survival, it has to be about our future and flourishing. It is not only the impact of Covid-19 right now, but the long lasting effects on mental health and well being of children. This will be impacted by the loss of economic stability and the scarce early intervention measures, which will now more than ever start to show up the cracks. We need to be putting this on the cards for future developments of supporting all children to achieve and fulfil their potential. Education cannot be the only mechanism for this to happen and, therefore, I am proposing the following:
Children, Young People and Families Together Strategy
- Supporting a national initiative of parental and child resilience through a dedicated outreach programme connected to Education, Health and Social Care
- Training for all frontline professionals on Attachment and Nurturing – exploring the concepts of Attachment
- Supporting all professionals and parents through targeted intervention on appropriate expectations and child development.
- Factoring in the social and emotional competence of children within all aspects of Child Centred Practice – utilising the Early Years as the catalyst for the approach.
- Reintroduce a robust Early Help Strategy for each Local Authority and invest on need for the most disadvantaged communities – including key partners from youth, education, public health and intervention services.
- Building Social Connections through Children and Family Hubs in the areas of the greatest need. Invest either in continual Sure Start provision or use schools and Early Years Nursery Settings to become those outreach services.
Children’s and young people’s Outcomes
- Redistribute funds to the greatest in need, refocusing on closing the attainment gap in education. This needs to be done with clear nurturing, access to robust mental health and well being support and accessible training for teachers and professionals.
- Children and young people to have a voice in all that they do – how to capture this and use to inform next steps?
- Achieve through purposeful play and education, through a happy and safe environment – accountability strengthened for parents, professionals and Early Help Bodies
- Each child and young person who experiences the need for Early Help services will be assessed against the outcomes of the UNCRC and Government and Local Authorities will need to be made accountable if those needs cannot be met. (There has to be an element of accountability).
- Children and Families with SEND to be given a voice; one which is strengthened and advocated, linking back to the child first.
- Bringing back a National Strategy for Schools, Early Years settings and Colleges to make sure that all outcomes for children meet the basis of the above standards.
- Strengthening a values based curriculum which encompasses an Approach of Inclusion holistically for all children and young people.
- A clear and robust birth to adult social care model developed with clear strategies for children in care and those with an EHCP, linked to current SEND Legislation.
Fundamentally, all of the above is based on research, with clear outcomes for children. We need to act fast and put wheels in motion. We need to invest in our children, fundamentally they are our future. Let’s raise the bar, start thinking about them now and how we can move forwards with implementation strategies for the near future. It is with this in mind that I am calling upon the Government to do the right thing and explore either all of the strategies I have mentioned or at least some to support the well-being of children and young people from birth up until they reach the age of 19. It was based on the idea that every child, regardless of their individual circumstances or background, should have plenty of support throughout their life. We cannot just rely on one factor of education. It needs a joined up approach from a whole community. (Bronfenbrenner).
I will leave you with the Brain Hero. It can be achieved. What we have learnt from the past can be our future again.