Consider the children: Why localism needs to be a devolution of resources not just power
Tuesday, January 17, 2023
On 4 January, we heard the new years speech of our current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak “building a better future” which pledged to half inflation; grow the economy, reduce debt; cut hospital waiting lists and stop migrant crossings.
A day later we heard the opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer promise to end “sticking plaster politics” by not “spending its way out of the mess of Tory legacy” and shifting the power balance back to communities.
Now it would appear that both political party leaders genuinely believe they have the winning “pre-election campaign appetisers” to win the “Build Back Britain Better” votes in future elections. However, I am slightly confused about how any strategy that fails to acknowledge or include clear commitment to investment in the children and young people of its nation, beyond maths lessons, can be taken seriously.
Let’s look at a quote from the Care Review: “No more should we have young people battling the same bureaucratic nonsense that the young people of 30 years ago were also dealing with.”
In my opinion, there are few things more difficult to overcome than the past. So often it shapes who we become, defining lives and directing decisions.
Recent research has linked child poverty to the rise in children entering into the care system. It is well documented that adverse childhood experiences are known contributors to educational underachievement, risk of exploitation, mental ill health and criminal associations.
Families feeling overwhelmed by the prospects of not being able to meet their children's basic needs, particularly with astronomical living costs, or not having timely access to emotional wellbeing and mental health assessment and services during times of crisis, will potentially fuel the fear and fan the flames that lead to family breakdown or worse. This leads me onto my own family's lived experience of the impact of under-resourced children’s services.
In October 2022, my 14-year-old grandson passed away following a heart-breaking battle with his mental health. Like so many children and young people he struggled with the restrictions and home schooling of the pandemic lockdowns.
He was already navigating the world of living with a parent with a diagnosed mental illness, and had experienced several block periods of time living with me in a kinship care arrangement. My daughter understands the importance of early intervention and we spent more than 18 months trying to access mental health support for my grandson. However, despite regular episodes of self-harming, and other high-risk activities, we were constantly told he didn’t meet the threshold.
After he died, I asked a social worker “what does it take for a child to meet the threshold?” She replied, “I’m a social worker and I don’t even know anymore”.
In the Kinship Care debate in The Commons on 24 November last year, David Simmons MP highlighted the connection between increasing thresholds in children’s safeguarding and support services and the decrease in public funding.
Sadly, the danger of fluid threshold increases linked primarily to funding cuts is undermining of the very concept of a risk assessment that potentially leads to a service that could save a child’s life.
The potential issues that arise due to the correlation between public funding cuts, and children’s social care thresholds, would make it evident that any devolution of power to local communities needs to recognise variances in locality deprivation indicators and the political and public spend challenges that exist contributing to shrinking service provisions and elongated waiting lists.
Although in theory I support localism and devolution of power to communities, in practice, any such devolution, particularly in relation to the safeguarding and wellbeing of children and young people, would need the government's cheque book to come out, so young lives like my 14year-old grandson are not avoidably cut short; hidden fatalities of years of austerity.
Sharon McPherson is co-founder of Families In Harmony with Johanna Bernard, calling for the development of racial and cultural trauma-informed practice alongside African Caribbean-centred parenting programmes. Sharon works part-time for the charity Kinship and sits on their lived experience advisory board. She is also a member of the Kinship Care Alliance (KCA) led by Family Rights Group (FRG) and co-chair of the KCA racial equalities subcommittee. Sharon is involved with racial equity co-production work with various member organisations of KCA including CoramBaaf.
Sharon is part of a panel for What Works for Children’s Social Care talking about Kinship Care on the 19 January