Over the past few weeks I have been laying out my immediate concerns as Children’s Commissioner: poverty; children in care; PSHE and child sexual exploitation.
With the delivery of the final Budget of the current government last Wednesday and less than 50 days to go until the General Election on 7 May, my thoughts, like many other,s are inevitably turning to what might happen after.
In an interview with the Observer published over the weekend, I talked about the present ‘state of the nation’ for children and about what any new government should be focusing on to make life better for all children and young people.
I argue that a new government should take a radically different approach to children and young people – one which moves away from old fashioned and rigid practices based on managing needs, demands and services and puts children at the heart of services with a new level of priority led from the top. I am keen to explore the potential to bring together targets and programmes from across government departments into one programme to create an ambitious drive for change for children.
I am also convinced that urgent help, backed by new investment is needed in the most disadvantaged areas to stand a chance of improving outcomes and reducing inequalities.
From 30 March, myself and my team will be bound by pre-election purdah. During this time I will be thinking very carefully about the work I want to take forward for children and young people. After the election I want to make sure children and young people are one of the top five priorities of any new government and that the following issues are urgently addressed.
1. There needs to be a plan to adequately address child poverty. The Chancellor talked about declining levels of poverty and improving lives for families in the Budget but the Government has missed its 2010 target to reduce child poverty and is on course to miss its 2020 pledge to eradicate it. The number of children living in poverty is predicted to increase to 4.7 million by 2020 and we know that poverty has a serious impact on children’s lives. They do less well at school; have poorer health and less happy childhoods.
I want any new government to provide clear leadership for tackling child poverty, with a particular emphasis in the first instance on our 100 poorest areas, with an agreed vision and action plan to significantly improve outcomes such as health and educational attainment for children and young people. I would also want a new government to reaffirm and re-establish the commitment to eradicate child poverty by 2025.
2. Radical change is needed for children in or leaving care. They deserve the same opportunities as our all children and we know are not getting the consistent support they need. A step change in ambition for children growing up in care is needed to secure real improvements and outcomes.
I want any new government to commit to fully funding continuing support and accommodation for all young people leaving care up to the age of 21, as well as to provide more ambitious and aspirational care plans and greater stability. A commitment to provide high quality therapeutic support to help children and young people recover from their experiences is something that I am keen to press for.
3. Proper investment in children’s mental health services is long overdue. I attended the launch of Children and Young People’s Mental Health Taskforce report last week and welcome its clear proposals for the much needed transformation of services. The Budget also allocated £1 billion over five years towards improving mental health services for children and young people but it will need to be well planned and carefully delivered.
I want any new government to continue this commitment. It is vital that mental health services for children are properly funded so our most vulnerable young people get the help and support they deserve.
4. A serious commitment to and investment in early intervention will be an important part of the package for any new government to improve outcomes for children. We know that supporting children and their families in the early years is extremely important but this is not an inoculation for life and intervention to prevent crisis is essential throughout childhood. The cost of not doing this is well-recognised.
Any new government needs to embark on a long term shift of emphasis towards early intervention – with targets of a 10% shift as the Early Intervention Foundation suggest as a first step over the next Parliament.
5. In my last blog I wrote about the importance of making good quality, age-appropriate PSHE available for all children in young people. It is positive that this has been highlighted in the media in recent weeks and that the current government has committed to producing a new charter mark for quality PSHE teaching.
I want any new government to go further and make PSHE a statutory part of the curriculum. There are many different pressures for our children: sexting, pornography, body image, sexualisation in the media to name just a few. High quality PSHE for all is one of the best ways we can empower and support our children and young people and help them navigate the rapidly changing landscape of childhood.
6. Further allegations of child sexual exploitation (CSE) are deeply concerning and any new government should fully commit to tackling this horrific crime urgently. I am determined to continue with our work on challenging CSE, and last week, I lent my support to National Child Sexual Exploitation Awareness Day.
I will continue to press for survivors and victims to be provided with proper support; for perpetrators to be pursued and brought to justice; and for professionals to be trained in identifying the signs. It is critical that any new government does the same.
I want more aspiration for all our children. We need to make this country a great place to grow up in – and I want any new government to step up and make children and young people a key priority. We should all be striving to make life better for children and young people.