Government must invest in children’s & youth services

Leading children’s charities and local councils have called on the Government to urgently close the funding gap facing children and young people’s services as new research reveals a sharp rise in families reaching “crisis point”.

An open letter signed by five major organisations warns that children’s social care is being pushed to breaking point, with a £2bn funding gap expected to open by 2020. It urges ministers to “step up” and use the Autumn Budget to invest in vital services in order to save youngsters from serious harm.

The signatories, which include Barnardo’s, Action for Children and the Local Government Association (LGA), state that between them they have “spent years warning successive governments that a failure to invest in these vital services will have long term consequences” for the UK’s children and families.

The letter, comes as a report by three leading children’s charities reveals “crippling” central government cuts have left councils with no option but to close services designed to detect early signs of child neglect and abuse – forcing them to direct to a “crisis” fire-fighting model.

Demand for crisis support for children has risen sharply as council spending on services that are designed to spot signs of neglect and abuse early has fallen by 40 per cent between 2010/11 and 2015/16, the report shows. Central government funding for children and young people’s services has seen a real terms decrease of £2.4bn in that period, while local authority allocations for these services has fallen by £1.6bn.

At the same time, there has been a 108 per cent increase in child protection investigations, as demand for council help soars.

The research, from The Children’s Society, Action for Children and the National Children’s Bureau, also reveals stark geographical discrepancies, with the most deprived councils in England having cut spending on children’s services by almost a quarter (23 per cent) – six times as much as the least deprived councils.

The open letter to ministers reads:

“Children’s social care is being pushed to breaking point, with an unprecedented surge in demand leaving services across the public, voluntary and community sector struggling to cope.

“We believe that all children deserve the chance of a bright future. That’s why we are uniting today to urge the Government to use the Autumn Budget to close the funding gap facing children’s services, which will reach at least £2bn by 2020.”

It states that the number of children needing child protection plans has nearly doubled over the past decade, and last year saw the largest annual increase in children in care since 2013. The organisations also highlight that local authorities overspent on children’s services by £365m in 2014/15 just to keep children safe, and a huge £605m the following year.

The letter adds:

“Our children and young people deserve better than the gradual decline of services – particularly those services that help children early – that have been shown to make a real difference to their lives”

“Councils and the voluntary sector are committed to getting the best for every child. Now we need the same commitment from our government, starting with urgent action through the Budget to give local services the resources they need to help children and families thrive.”

The number of young people subject to child protection enquires increased by 140 per cent – to 170,000 – in the past decade, according to research by the LGA earlier this year.

A separate study more recently revealed that benefit cuts and increased levels of poverty across the UK were the primary cause for this “unprecedented surge” in demand for children’s services, while a lack of resources to provide universal services like children’s centres and youth clubs also played a significant part.

 

 

Homophobic, biphobic and transphobic (HBT) bullying tackled in new guidance for Church schools

Guidance for the Church of England’s 4,700 schools published today aims to prevent pupils from having their self-worth diminished or their ability to achieve impeded by being bullied because of their perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity.

The report makes 12 recommendations for schools including ensuring schools’ Christian ethos statements offer “an inclusive vision for education” where “every child should be revered and respected as members of a community where all are known and loved by God. ”

Clear anti-bullying policies should include HBT behaviours and language, policies on how to report incidences should be accessible, staff trained on recognising bullying, curriculum and collective worship should support the vision and the wider church ensure that schools are responding well to the guidance.

In the foreword of the report, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said:

“All bullying, including homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying causes profound damage, leading to higher levels of mental health disorders, self-harm, depression and suicide.

“Central to Christian theology is the truth that every single one of us is made in the image of God. Every one of us is loved unconditionally by God.

“This guidance helps schools to offer the Christian message of love, joy and celebration of our humanity without exception or exclusion.”

The advice is an update on Valuing All God’s Children, guidance published in 2014 which tackled homophobic behaviour. This update covers a wider range of negative behaviours, incorporates the relevant legal and inspection frameworks and reflects the Church’s Vision for Education, whose four elements of wisdom, hope, community and dignity form the theological basis of the guidance.

 

Chief Education Officer for the Church of England, Nigel Genders, said:

“Providing an education to our 1 million children that will enable them to live life in all its fullness is a big responsibility.

“This practical and thoughtful advice is packed with templates and a comprehensive selection of resources for schools, teachers, families and young people. I hope that it will make a difference to our school communities and individual pupils too.”

The report acknowledges that it is likely that not all will agree on issues to do with human sexuality, marriage or gender identity. It goes on to say that:

“However, there needs to be a faithful and loving commitment to remain in relationship with the other and honour the dignity of their humanity without ‘back turning’, dismissing the other person, or claiming superiority.” 

The full report can be found here.

Hampshire Constabulary Launches Firearms Surrender

The surrender is giving people the chance to hand in any firearms or ammunition which have come into their possession for whatever reason.

The surrender runs from today (November 13) until Sunday, November 26 and is part of national initiative run by the National Ballistics Intelligence Service (NABIS). It aims to reduce the number of illegally held firearms within our communities.

Each firearm handed into the Police is one less that could fall into the hands of criminals.  Whether it is an old family heirloom that has been stored away for years, a former military weapon or an unwanted firearm which was previously legally owned – all can be handed in to your local police station, safe in the knowledge that they will be disposed of safely.

Hampshire Constabulary will also accept replica firearms, air weapons, BB guns, imitation firearms, antique guns, component parts and other ballistic items.

During the fortnight firearms licence holders are also being encouraged to consider the surrender of weapons they no longer have any use for.

 

During the two-week campaign, those surrendering firearms will not face prosecution for the illegal possession upon surrender and can remain anonymous.  However, this is not an amnesty and if further examination of a surrendered firearm reveals a link to a crime, this will be investigated.

Hampshire Constabulary are asking anyone who is unsure about an item they have to call them on 101 to get advice on what they should do.  Alternatively, you can call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Historic ordnance should not be moved or handed in to any stations, if you think you have any items like this, please call Hampshire Constabulary on 101 for advice.

Please click here for a list of which stations will be taking part in the surrender.

Oxford college banned Christian group from freshers’ fair

As the university academic year kicks off, once again, we see a Christian Union having their activities on campus restricted.  Balliol Christian Union (CU) was banned from attending the Freshers’ Fair by the JCR over concerns at the “potential for harm to freshers” and because they wanted the freshers’ fair to be a “secular space”, according to Oxford’s student newspaper Cherwell.

Eventually the CU was told that a single multi-faith stall would be allowed to display leaflets, though no representatives would be allowed to staff it, according to leaked emails. Balliol CU boycotted this option.

The decision has caused anger at Balliol, where a motion was reportedly passed unanimously accusing the JCR committee of “barring the participation of specific faith-based organisations” and describing the step as “a violation of free speech [and] a violation of religious freedom”. The motion prohibited the barring of official religious societies from future freshers’ fairs.

In an email exchange, JCR vice-president Freddy Potts, on behalf of the JCR committee, reportedly told a CU representative:

“We recognise the wonderful advantages in having CU representatives at the freshers’ fair, but are concerned that there is potential for harm to freshers who are already struggling to feel welcome in Oxford.”

“Christianity’s influence on many marginalised communities has been damaging in its methods of conversion and rules of practice, and is still used in many places as an excuse for homophobia and certain forms of neo-colonialism.”

In a Facebook post, JCR president Hubert Au said the decision to have a multi-faith stall rather than a specific CU stall, was reached “in light of both concerns raised by members [of the Welfare sub committee] and by an undergraduate survey conducted last term, which indicated a lack of familiarity as to where non-Christian societies, events and services were located”, the paper reported.  “We didn’t want to monopolise the presence of any individual faith/belief society at the Balliol freshers’ fair.”

The Rev Nigel Genders, the Church of England’s chief education officer, said:

“Freedom of religion and belief is a fundamental principle that underpins our country and its great institutions and universities.

“Christian Unions represent some of the largest student led organisations in many universities across the country and to exclude them in this way is to misunderstand the nature of debate and dialogue and at odds with the kind of society we are all seeking to promote.”

The Rev Richard Cunningham (Director of UCCF) said:

“We are however concerned that the current desire to provide safe spaces on campus does not infringe on the core liberties of freedom of speech and freedom of association which are surely foundational to the university experience and indeed to basic human flourishing.”

Six people charged with criminal offences over Hillsborough disaster

Liverpool City Council light up 96 lanterns and illuminate St Georgeís Hall on Lime Street in red along with a banner which names those who lost their lives in the Hillsborough Disaster .(Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Match commander David Duckenfield and Norman Bettison are among six people charged with criminal offences over the Hillsborough disaster.

The Crown Prosecution Service revealed its intentions in a meeting with the victims relatives at 11am this morning.

Last year it was concluded that the 96 fans that lost their lives at Hillsborough in the 1989 stadium disaster had been unlawfully killed.

Following a six month investigation by the Crown Prosecution Service, today six people have been charged for their roles in the Hillsborough disaster, including match commander David Duckenfield and Norman Bettison, who was heavily involved with coordinating the response of the South Yorkshire Police following the dissaster.

Others charged are Graham Henry Mackrell, Sheffield Wednesday’s safety officer; Peter Metcalf, a South Yorkshire Police solicitor; and Donald Denton and Alan Foster, both members of the South Yorkshire Police at the time of the disaster.

 

Head of the Crown Prosecution Service Special Crime and CounterTerrorism Division, Sue Hemming, announced the charges in relation to the Hillsborough Stadium disaster.

 

Volunteers gave 7% less of their time to help their communities in the UK

Volunteers gave 7% less of their time to help their communities, at a loss to the UK of more than £1 billion, between 2012 and 2015, the latest figures from the ONS show.

In fact, there has been a general decline in the time that the UK’s unsung heroes and heroines spend volunteering since 2005, according to ONS analysis.

Despite the value of the voluntary sector to the UK, there has been a 15.4% decline in the total number of frequent hours1 volunteered, between 2005 and 2015 – a drop from 2.28 billion hours to 1.93 billion, figures from the Community Life Survey (CLS) show.

Latest figures from 2014 show volunteering represented 2% of the total value of unpaid work, and was worth £23 billion.2

Total frequent hours of formal volunteering, billion hours, 2005 to 2014

Overall, there was a decline in the amount of time put into volunteering. Between 2000 and 2015 it dropped from an average (mean) of 14.5 minutes per volunteer, per day to 13.7 minutes.

This equates to a drop from a weekly average of one hour and 42 minutes to one hour and 36 minutes per volunteer.

Young people and volunteering

The statistics suggest that those in the youngest age group of 16 to 24 have increased the time they devote to volunteering while those in the 25 to 34 age category have decreased their volunteering time.

In 2015 average time and participation in volunteering was higher for those aged between 16 and 24 (17 minutes per day and 51% participation) and was a noticeable rise as compared to those in the same age group in 2000 (nine minutes per day and 40 % participation).

It could be that, as younger people try and secure employment, they undertake voluntary work in order to enhance their CVs, but as they embed themselves in their careers, at an older age, their focus turns to building their careers.

Also, younger people have more free time, with participation rates for students rising the most – by 12 percentage points between 2000 and 2015 – from 46% to 58%.

 

Prince William has a stark warning about the stigma surrounding mental health

Prince William has spoken out about his desire to “normalise” the “great taboo” of mental health in a powerful speech.

He said that until recently, people with anxiety were considered to be “weak,” and those who were struggling to cope were deemed to be “failing.”:

“Successful, strong people don’t suffer like that, do they.  But of course – we all do. It’s just that few of us speak about it”

He said that his interest in mental health began with his work as an Air Ambulance pilot.

“It was suicide, a subject that is so often hidden. The suicide rate among young men in this country is an appalling stain on our society.  Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 40 in this country. Not cancer, not knife crime, not road deaths – suicide.”

The prince said if any one of the aforementioned issues caused so many deaths, there would be a “national outcry.”

“But there has only ever been silence. And this has to stop. This silence is killing good people,” the prince said.

The prince said that in his work as in Search and Rescue and as an Air Ambulance pilot, he has been encouraged — along with his colleagues — to admit when they feel “overwhelmed or unable to cope”.

“This should be the norm,” he said.

Young Carer’s Day: the stress of juggling multiple responsibilities

A group of young carers have made a hard-hitting film showing how stressful it can be juggling responsibilities both at home and in school.

The film, which was made by Fixers, the charity which gives young people a voice, is being launched today on Young Carer’s Day.

You can watch it here:

Jade Dyer, 17, has been the primary carer for her mum for the past four years and takes the lead role in the film.  It shows her being reprimanded by a teacher for failing to get an essay in on time as she struggles to look after her mum who has Grave’s disease – an autoimmune condition where the immune system attacks the body.

Jade, from Bourne End, Bucks, says:

‘Her illness means her moods can be very up and down – when she’s down I need to be there to console her and give her support.  She might not be able to get out of bed if she’s feeling like that, so I’ll need to do household tasks like cooking dinner.  If she doesn’t take her medication or is particularly unwell she becomes quite immobile, so if she collapses I need to be there to help her up.’

There were times when the teenager struggled to cope with school.  She says:

‘My secondary school attendance was very low, and the teachers didn’t realise what I was going through so there was a huge lack of understanding.  My grades were affected and teachers could be quite harsh about it.’

Jade, who is now studying for her A-levels at Henley College, plans to show the film at teacher training events.  She says:

‘We hope the film will show teachers just how much we have to do – we have a lot more on our plates than the average student and getting some leniency when it comes to things like essay deadlines could really help us.

‘Anyone can be in a caring role and it’s important that teachers are patient and understanding so they can help them. There are a lot of intelligent people who could miss out otherwise.  Focus on what that child’s needs are and help them in any way you can.’

 

Reports from the UK government on Domestic Violence

The Home Office have launched a range of papers recently on the theme of domestic violence and abuse.

The changes to the definition of domestic raise awareness that young people in the 16 to 17 age group can also be victims of domestic violence and abuse.

By including this age group the government hopes to encourage young people to come forward and get the support they need, through a helpline or specialist service.

A young people’s panel will be set up by the NSPCC. The panel will consist of up to 5 members between the age of 16 and 22, who will work with the government on domestic violence policy and wider work to fight violence against women and girls.

Here are some of the key recent publications:

The UK prison system is in melt down

The UK prison system is in melt down.  Currently we have riots in prisons, high staff turnover due to assaults, and high suicide rates.

Riots in prison

Violence in prison seems to be on the increase.  Assaults behind bars increased by more than 34% to 23,775 – about 65 per day – in the 12 months to the end of June 2016.  The MoJ figures show an increasingly volatile situation in women’s prisons, with the number of assaults rising by 25% in a year.

The Ministry of Justice has explicitly acknowledged that staff cuts are a factor in the rising tide of violence in prisons in England and Wales.  The MoJ commentary on the prison safety figures states:

“The rise in assaults since 2012 has coincided with major changes to the regime, operating arrangements and culture in public sector prisons.  For example, restructuring of the prison estate, including staff reductions, which have reduced overall running costs, and an increase in gang culture and illicit psychoactive drugs in prisons.”

In recent months we’ve seen a murder in Pentonville prison, riots in Lewes, Bedford, Birmingham and  Swaleside and the Prison Officers’ Association stating that Hull prison is ‘on [the] brink of riot’ after inmates arrive from Birmingham.

High staff turnover

The Prison Officers’ Association (POA) said that the National Offender Management Service, which oversees the country’s prisons, has classed 12 jails as “red sites”, meaning they do not have enough staff to operate a standard regime. A similar number are classed as “amber sites”, indicating they are also suffering acute staffing issues. The POA has estimated around 35% of the country’s prisons were experiencing some form of staffing problem.

Figures published by the Ministry of Justice show that in the past year the number of full-time prison officers has dropped by almost 600.

High suicide rates

The Howard League for Penal Reform said it had been notified of the deaths by suicide of 102 people up until 18 November – the equivalent of one every three days and breaking the record for frequency of suicides.

According to Frances Cook, the director of the Howard League:

“With five weeks remaining until the end of the year, it is already the highest death toll in a calendar year since recording practices began in 1978. The previous high was in 2004 when 96 deaths by suicide were recorded.”

Crook said:

“The number of people dying by suicide in prison has reached epidemic proportions. No one should be so desperate while in the care of the state that they take their own life and yet, every three days, a family is told that a loved one has died behind bars.

“By taking bold but sensible action to reduce the number of people in prison, we can save lives and prevent more people being swept away into deeper currents of crime and despair.”

Prison staff struggle to recognise mental health risk factors as shown in the case of Josh Collinson, aged 18, who was found hanged at Swinfen Hall young offender institution in Staffordshire on 3 September last year.  He had been transferred the previous day from Parc prison, in south Wales, where he had self-harmed on six occasions and been placed on a list of at-risk prisoners.

So what can be done?

One of the key issues is to lower the jail population.  As Kenneth Clarke, the Conservative former home secretary and justice secretary, Jacqui Smith, the Labour former home secretary, and Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem former deputy prime minister, have warned that the prison crisis will do “untold damage to wider society” if it is not addressed.  The prison population should be cut from its current level, around 85,000, to what it was in the 1980s, around 45,000, they say in a letter to the Times:

“To restore order, security, and purpose to our jails, ministers should now make it their policy to reduce prison numbers. We want to see the prison population returned to the levels it was under Margaret Thatcher, herself no ‘soft touch’,”

Secondly is to review sentencing policy and to explore tougher alternatives to prison, possibly involving “visible” work punishments in the community, as suggested by Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, the Lord Chief Justice:

“If you are sending someone to prison for a very short time, the ability of the prison to cope with that person is limited in the current circumstances. It’s very important that you have real alternatives to prison. It’s important you have tough community sentences available … and this is something at which we really need to look.

“Should you have some really tough kind of work for [offenders] to do? Should you make the punishment visible? What’s essential is that you have a tough alternative to prison … These are things on which it would be good to have a proper open debate.”

Thirdly, young offenders up to the age of 25 should be kept out of adult prisons because of “irrefutable evidence” that the typical adult male brain is not fully formed until at least the mid-20s, MPs have said.

The House of Commons justice select committee says young adults, who make up 10% of the adult prison population but account for 30-40% of police time, should be treated differently by the criminal justice system and be held in young offender institutions with 18- to 20-year-olds.  The MPs say that the most recent evidence shows that young people are reaching adult maturity five to seven years later than they did a few decades ago, which is affecting the age at which most typically grow out of crime.

 

 

Oasis College to no longer recruit undergraduate and postgraduate students

oasis-college-tweet

I was sad but not unsurprised to hear that Oasis College will no longer be recruiting students to their undergraduate and postgraduate courses.

You can read Adrian Smith’s statement (College Principal) in full here.  Here’s some key parts of the statement:

Unfortunately Oasis College has also seen a steady decline in students, despite having a positive recruitment strategy in place, supported by staff and resources. We have failed to recruit our minimum target of students for a number of years. Consequently this has put a stress on the financial resources available and as a result, the College Board has had to re-consider the future direction of the College.

In the light of the financial implications specifically brought about by low recruitment levels for the current 2016-2017 academic year, the decision was taken by the College Board to no longer recruit to our undergraduate and postgraduate courses. In practice this means that no new undergraduate and postgraduate students will commence studying at Oasis College.

Oasis College will still seek to provide short and continued professional development courses for the foreseeable future and will continue to recruit for these courses.

Changes to the landscape of higher education always made this likely.  Ever since the development of higher fees for undergraduate degrees through the Higher Education Act 2004 universities funding has become increasingly consumer driven.  The top Russell group of universities are able to fund their budgets through a combination of high students numbers willing to pay the higher fees (now £9,000 plus inflationary increases) and large research grants.

For smaller colleges or departments it is impossible to compete because the research funding has often been cut in the more specialist areas not linked to industry (which Brexit will potentially only make worse by losing more EU funding) and they are not able to attract sufficient student numbers to balance the books.

What this means for the future of youth work and youth ministry isn’t clear.  The sector itself is much smaller, but with fewer teaching and research institutions, representing a narrower brand of youth work I don’t see this being a positive step.