Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, has published ‘Guess How Much We Love You: A Manifesto for Children’ ahead of any upcoming General Election. The manifesto calls on Britain’s political parties to include a six-point plan in their election manifestos to transform the life chances for disadvantaged children and to help all of England’s 12 million children to thrive.
The manifesto sets out some of the key issues that children have told the Children’s Commissioner’s Office are affecting their lives, and reflects many of the subjects the Children’s Commissioner has been shining a light on in recent years – children growing up in chaotic families, inadequate children’s mental health services, children’s safety and children living in poor quality housing such as B&Bs, converted office blocks or shipping containers.
The Children’s Commissioner’s manifesto focuses on six key themes: supporting stronger families, providing decent places for children to live, helping children to have healthy minds, keeping children active, providing SEND support for those who need it, and creating safer streets and play areas. It also sets out some of the likely costs involved alongside the policy proposals, including the Children’s Commissioner’s argument that existing statutory services must be put on a sustainable financial footing.
The six pledges the Children’s Commissioner wants to see the political parties include in their election manifestos are:
- Extend and expand the Troubled Families Programme or an equivalent system of family support: The Children’s Commissioner wants to see family support put at the heart of children’s social care, with an expansion of the Troubled Families Programme to 500,000 households, and an outcomes framework built more around children. This should be delivered through an extended network of family support centres in the most deprived areas, building on existing children’s centres and extended school opening hours; helping families not only with very young children but as their kids grow up.
- A Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service counsellor in every school: Children tell the Commissioner they want access to mental health support, quicker, more conveniently, and ideally delivered in schools, where it would attract less stigma. The Children’s Commissioner believes the current plans for mental health counsellors in schools need to be delivered faster and more widely.
- Adequate funding for Special Educational Needs and Disabilities, including pre-statutory support: From the failure to provide early support such as speech and language therapy, to long waiting lists for assessments for children with suspected autism, a paucity of suitable school places for children with high needs, and soaring exclusions, the system is patching up problems and failing kids rather than helping them. The SEND system must be adequately funded.
- Schools open at evenings, weekends and holidays: The Children’s Commissioner believes all schools should stay open during evenings and weekends and throughout school holidays, to provide a range of activities from sports to arts, drama to digital citizenship; and high quality youth support. The benefits to such an approach would be wide-ranging: for children, their families and their communities. It would broaden children’s access to education, it would help parents with childcare and be good for children’s mental health and social skills and help to tackle the scourge of serious violence and gangs. The cost of this must not be borne by schools and teachers.
- Police officers and youth workers in schools: Security in schools and neighbourhoods has to be a priority for any government. The Children’s Commissioner wants to see neighbourhood police officers attached to every school. Parks should be made safer: with low fences so the children can see out (and adults can see in), more lights, more adults, and CCTV – all suggestions made by children consulted by the Children’s Commissioner. Youth workers should work with children at risk of exclusion to keep them in school and to open up opportunities.
- A Cabinet committee for children: The next government should establish a cross-government Cabinet committee: a committee for children. Children should at last be given the priority they are screaming out for at the top of government. Tackling complex generational problems will not be quick, and it won’t be cheap – in the region of £10 billion to implement everything set out in this manifesto.
Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, launching the children’s manifesto, said:
“The building blocks of a good childhood haven’t changed – secure relationships, a decent home and inspiring schools. I want politicians to think seriously about whether they are truly prioritising these things for children. I’ve heard more national political conversation about HS2, water nationalisation and tax cuts – and of course Brexit – than I have about children.
“Children do not have a vote. Unless political parties choose to listen to them, they do not have a voice. I am the eyes and ears of children in the Whitehall system and I see far, far too often the interests of children being subjugated to the interests of others – of business, or of bureaucracies, or of adults who do have votes and whose views are therefore counted.
“We should be ashamed that there are literally millions of kids in England not having the childhood we in a decent society would want them to have. Yet none of this is inevitable: we get the society we choose. The right help at the right time pays dividends – to the children, to society and the public purse, now and in the future.
“I want England to be a great place for all children to grow up. This manifesto sets out a vision for a more child, and family- focused society. It demands that all political parties take action in their manifestos to improve the lives of kids.”