Creating a country that works for all children

Anna Feuchtwang
Tuesday, April 11, 2017

When Theresa May became Prime Minister she promised that the UK would be a "country that works for everyone". It's a wonderful and bold aspiration.

It's also a hostage to fortune when it's so easy to identify groups of young people - like those in care, with complex needs and economically deprived - for whom the country clearly isn't working…yet.

With the Chancellor's emphasis in the Budget on "the most academically-gifted children to get specialist support to fulfil their potential", it's hard to see how this creates a country that works for every child. Talent isn't just about genetics. Being "gifted" has more to do with your family circumstances than with luck of the draw. We need to move away from singling out small numbers of children apparently destined for greatness, and think about how we can give everyone the best start in life.

Meanwhile, council spending has fallen 20 per cent in the last five years. It's no surprise then that children's services are struggling to meet growing levels of need - especially as demand for child protection has increased almost 30 per cent. That means less money for short breaks for disabled children, youth clubs and children's centres. In fact, 89 per cent of children's services directors say that even fulfilling statutory duties is proving a challenge.

By 2020, social services will be funded by taxes raised locally rather than from central government so local authorities must justify tax rises to pay for vulnerable children in order to meet their statutory duties, or reduce bin collections!

Does a country that works for everyone really mean everyone? What about the tens of thousands of children missing from education? They're off the radar of services and we don't know exactly how many there are. Our 2014 Freedom of Information request identified nearly 15,000 children recorded as missing education and that didn't include those that have been excluded but are still on the school roll.

Education is a fundamental right. You would think a country that works for everyone would be able to provide education for all children, including those with complex needs, who may be being bullied, experiencing domestic violence, or who move frequently because of the housing crisis.

The Children's Inter Agency Group is the only forum working with children that brings together voluntary sector providers and the statutory sector, including local authorities, health and the police, to improve outcomes for children, particularly the most disadvantaged. We've agreed that creating a country that works for every child should be our aim too and we intend to hold the government and each other to account.

If we really want a country that works for all children we need to shout louder when it's not working, celebrate good initiatives and challenge poor ones. And we need to do this together across the sector.

Anna Feuchtwang is chief executive at National Children's Bureau

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