Children’s Commissioner calls on Government to prioritise children in six-point manifesto
Monday, September 9, 2019
The manifesto outlines improvements needed in children’s mental health services, housing, special, educational needs support and street safety.
The Children’s Commissioner for England has published a six-point manifesto calling on political parties to improve the lives of disadvantaged children.
The manifesto highlights some of the key issues that children have told the Children’s Commissioner’s Office are affecting their lives and shines a light on problems ranging from inadequate children’s mental health services to poor quality housing.
What does the manifesto say?
The Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, wants the Troubled Families Programme, which was designed to support children growing up in dire poverty or in chaotic families, to be expanded to 500,000 households.
Funding for the programme is set to end entirely in March 2021, yet the manifesto is calling on the Government to build on a network of family support centres in the UK’s most deprived areas, supporting existing children’s centres and extending school opening hours.
The replacement of benefits such as Child Tax Credit with Universal Credit has placed an additional burden on families.
Research commissioned by the Children’s Commissioner shows it is possible to predict families facing crisis, which is why the manifesto is calling for an assessment of the impact of Universal Credit on children, an abolition of the two-child limit (Universal Credit will not pay an additional amount for a third or subsequent child born on or after 6 April 2017) and an end to the five-week wait for first Universal Credit payment.
The manifesto highlights the need to find adequate and stable housing for all children, with a cross-Government ministerial taskforce established to address children’s housing needs. Local authority statutory children’s services need funding and there must be an expansion of accommodation available for looked after children.
The Children’s Commissioner believes that the Government commitment to providing mental health support teams ‘in or near schools’ in a quarter to a fifth of the country by 2023/24 is a good pledge, but that this aim needs to be delivered faster and more widely, with every school in England having access to a CAMHS-trained counsellor.
Ms Longfield said: ‘We should be ashamed that there are literally millions of kids in England not having the childhood a decent society would want.
‘A million children – around four in every school class – need help for mental health problems. More than 120,000 are homeless and living in temporary accommodation. Over 50,000 children aren’t getting any kind of education, while nearly 30,000 are in violent gangs.
‘I want England to be a great place for all children to grow up. This paper sets out a vision for a more child, and family, focused society.’
With social media increasingly become a part of children’s lives, she believes improving digital literacy should form a core part of the school curriculum for children aged five and over.
Special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) was also prioritised in the manifesto, with the 2014 reforms recognised as well-intentioned but poorly executed, leaving a £1.8bn funding shortfall. The Government announced last week that it will be reviewing the reforms, and it has also pledged £700m additional funding in the latest spending round.
Keeping streets safe and encouraging children to put down technology in favour of enjoying the great outdoors have been flagged as important issues. The Children’s Commissioner believes schools should stay open in evenings and weekends, and throughout school holidays, to provide a range of activities.
Not only would this initiative support families, it would broaden access to subjects ‘squeezed’ out of the academic curriculum. New funding is needed to provide this support, so the cost is not borne by schools and teachers.
Councillor Judith Blake, chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said: ‘The Spending Round delivered a £3.5 billion funding package for councils next year which will help them as they strive to support our most vulnerable young people.
‘Funding pressures have forced many to cut or end early intervention services which can prevent problems, for example relating to children’s mental health or involvement in crime, before they escalate. It therefore remains vital that services supporting young people, children and families are fully funded.’
A call to support early years education from the former children’s commissioner
Sir Al Aynsley-Green has called for an investigation into early years education amid growing concerns about a staff recruitment crisis.
The former children’s commissioner has accused the Government of denying the importance of children’s early years.
Speaking to the Guardian, he said: ‘The dominance of Brexit is obvious, and it is obscuring the challenges affecting countless children and families, which are just not being addressed. Morale in the early years sector is awful. We are facing a massive challenge of recruitment and retention.’