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Childhood Matters – ADCS – Head Hands And Heart For Childhood And Children

Childhood Matters – ADCS – Head Hands and Heart for childhood and children

The ADCS report ‘Childhood Matters’ has the support of NCERCC.

It provides remarkable analysis in a short document. It lays open contemporary childhood. It is a detailed deconstruction of the current situation facing children and those working to support children.

A significant strategic decoupling from the recent years ‘collaboration’ that has involved government and its agencies, national and local, and some provider organisations. A new independence is starting to be mapped.

Maybe this stems from ADCS, now, seeing the care system as irreformable? If this is the analysis then it follows not to put efforts into renewing or resisting but to imagine, create and inhabit a new space. Children’s services made anew from first principles.

It is notable that the ADCS president has called this undoubtedly pre-election publication ‘a call to arms’. From the same stance NCERCC sees it as a call for the Heads, Hands and Heart of children and childhood to be central to government policy. It is useful to read that ADCS will be using further iterations as there are some further additions that will assist. We include some of them in this response. There is definitely more needed about the importance of Play, an idea and practice that has got lost in the instrumentalisation of childhood, schools and care. From there we need to go on to reclaim the emotional world of childhood.

The government has enabled an impoverished idea of childhood. Childhood is where everything starts yet a ‘good-enough’ upbringing has been impinged. Looking at the statistics about childhood today and the Maslow’s triangle, it is apparent that too many children are within the lower stages. The pinnacle of self-actualisation comes through the previous stages being present and active, providing the secure emotional base childhood that is needed to thrive.

It is good to read ADCS reclaiming the word ‘thrive’ as a word relevant to childhood and children. ‘Failure to thrive’ was once a more prevalent social work concept. The opening pages of the ADCS publication executive summary provides the litany of ways government policy has led us into a situation where childhood has the shadow ‘failure the thrive’ cast over it. The ADCS are surely right that it does not have to be this way. There are other political and economic choices that can be made. Fiscal rules do not define a government’s ambition for childhood.

NCERCC supports the ADCS in asserting the ‘Cabinet Office should develop and co-ordinate an ambitious, cross government plan for childhood’. This statement is strong and reflects the concord that exists across European politics regarding  childhood, children and services, no matter the political outlook there has been agreement on what is to be done and this enables planning. The currently included word ‘mitigation’ detracts from the powerful message. The pragmatism of ‘mitigation’ is understood yet it needs to be used with caution. If mitigation is included it needs constant challenge unless that is all is becomes.  Better to assert the ambition.

This is why ‘thrive’ is so important. Poverty brings deprivation and this has a global impact on a child, physical, emotional, psychological. It is not solely the alleviation of poverty that is needed but more, the concept of ‘thrive’ remains useful as a spur to government policy.

Perhaps, ‘to thrive’ was the forerunner of the idea of Resilience. It needs to be taken back from those who position it as an individual character trait. The ‘I have, I am, I can’ of an individual, resilience is environmental, it is what is around the child that is absorbed to become their identity. A rich relational environment is key. Anything that does not optimise these needs not to be government policy.

ADCS identify a “lack of prominence and prioritisation of children within government policy”. The ideological position of government has been towards the family, as seen in the government’s Care Review final report.

It is good to see that the ADCS ideas include Residential Child Care as too often, as in the Care Review, the sector is not integrated as part of system wide thinking.

The ADCS write of thinking of new ways of funding of children’s services, and maybe this can include for Residential Child Care. NCERCC considers none of the three ownerships (LA, Private, Voluntary) are suitable.

The wider thinking also includes campaigning for the ending of Sufficiency, as this is a mitigation word. The sector needs to be approached with Specificity; needs-led thinking. The commissioning, commodification, marketisation experiment has failed to meet the range of needs of children in care and we need to think afresh. We need productive planning about what is needed and how to create it. The first stage is a needs audit. The Nuffield Family Justice Observatory have shown the value of identifying co-occurring needs. We know too little of the needs of children in care in this granular form.

The existence of poverty indicates a government not implementing evidenced based practice. Eradication of child poverty is key to educational engagement, advancement, achievement and attainment. It enables readiness to study. In turn this is key to any workforce and industry/technology strategy, these start with an understanding of what makes a good childhood and why this matters. As the ADCS observe ‘How we care for, educate, and support the children of today is an indication of how successful our country will be tomorrow.’ It is ironic that the government’s Care Review places relationships and Love at its centre.

The ADCS have made a good start in imagining how the future could be different, ‘A Child Fair’ state indeed needs a Child Fair state in deeds.  Show me, don’t tell me.

ADCS page 12

Every child deserves a happy, safe childhood in which they can thrive, not just survive, regardless of where they live or how much money their families earn. Some will need more help and support from the state to secure their wellbeing, and keep them safe from harm, and councils are ambitious about improving children’s lives and their future life chances. If the significant instability that has characterised politics and government in recent years, …, the existence of a comprehensive, strategic plan for childhood would mitigate some of the worst effects of this uncertainty for us all. Similarly, having a long-term strategic plan for childhood would offer a consistent framework for policy development, decision making and spending and allow us to make real progress on the social injustices that are the drivers of poor outcomes and life chances, including poverty, health inequalities, racial disparities and access to opportunity across all regions. Childhood matters, it’s time to put children at the top of the agenda.