Children in care need long-term support

 writing from his own personal experience argues that, too often, young in care are simply contained and criminalised. If a permanent home can’t be found, then having a mentor would make a huge difference to young people’s lives.

Lord Laming’s review for the Prison Reform Trust has found that children in care are six times more likely to be cautioned by police or convicted of a crime than others of the same age. It is a national shame that we allow these young people to fill young offender institutions and prisons after spending so much money “taking care” of them throughout their childhoods.

Unlike in your average family home, kids in care are regularly criminalised by those caring for them: police are called out for incidents that happen to many teenagers but especially those who are harbouring pain and hurt from family breakdown, and exposure to violence and abuse. As a result children and teenagers are getting criminal records for throwing plates and smashing up their rooms, and other actions often regarded as domestic by the police called out to help manage such behaviour. But to the child in care, it’s often their first contact with the criminal justice system.

In my children’s home the police were regular visitors. I had police called on me for breaking windows, getting caught sniffing glue and fighting with other kids. By the time I was living independently at 15, I was well known to both probation and the police.

My argument has always been that if we got care right more often, lots of money could be saved – and lives too. But the problem with care is that too often it feels like we are just containing these kids. With so many moving between foster families, they often have no consistent positive adult in their lives. I have met kids who have had three social workers and eight foster placements, which often include school moves too. They have no one to walk alongside them as they navigate their life over a long period, no one to take a real interest in their long-term wellbeing.

Go check out the full article.

Traffic lights in the ground help teenagers avoid traffic

In Germany they call them “smombies” – or smartphone zombies – people who are so caught up in their device they roam the streets oblivious to other people, traffic or rogue lamp posts.

Now this particular breed of tech junkie has been given special traffic lights — installed into the pavements — to help them avoid oncoming traffic.

Officials in Augsburg in the Bavaria region have built lights into the pavement at two tram stops in the city, The Local reports, which flash red when a tram is approaching or the normal lights turn red.

They’re designed to catch the eye of anyone craning their neck to get through that last Candy Crush level before they board and alert them when a relatively quiet trains approaching.

 

Tobias Harms from the city’s council told reporters:

“We realised that the normal traffic light isn’t in the line of sight of many pedestrians these days.  So we decided to have an additional set of lights — the more we have, the more people are likely to notice them.”

Several pedestrians are said to have been hit by the trains while looking at their phones recently, and a 15-year-old was reportedly hit and killed after being distracted by her device in Munich in March.

UNICEF creates virtual child from photos of children in conflict

There are currently 250 million children around the world living in countries affected by conflict, and half of the 19.5 million refugees globally are children. A new awareness campaign hopes to shine a light on them all — by focusing on one.

UNICEF Sweden has created “Sofia,” a 3D-animated child using 500 photos of real children from emergency areas. The images were provided by Getty Images, the campaign’s visual partner, and animators from the films Planet of the Apes and Avatar worked with creative agency Edelman Deportivo to bring her to life.

Per Westberg, deputy executive director of UNICEF Sweden, said in a statement.

“We have created Sofia to give a face to all the children that aren’t visible to us.  Sofia is a symbol for all the orphan children, all the children that have been forced to leave their homes due to conflicts, who have stopped growing because of lack of nutrition and who dream of going to school.”

UNICEF decided to call the child Sofia because it was reported as the “most popular” name across the world last year.

The animation released this week marks the first of three videos in the organization’s #FörSofia spring campaign, according to Swedish news outlet Resumé.

“Meet Sofia,” the video opens. “She is the children that no one sees, in the disasters no one talks about. This is her story.”

While the video runs the risk of perpetuating an idea that there is a single refugee experience, the most compelling part is when Sofia says, “I’m not real. I’m the face of all the children suffering from emergencies no one talks about.”

Then, images of refugee children and those in conflict areas populate the screen.

3D_work_in_progress

In addition to awareness, the campaign aims to inspire people to become donors to UNICEF, as “world parents.”

Westberg said:

“Sofia is representing all the children you are helping when you are a world parent, UNICEF supports the children, through long-term development projects and through acute support when disasters occur. We are distributing our efforts according to needs, and the most exposed children will get help first.”

10 reasons we MUST keep Children’s Centres & Early Help Hubs

The Challenge

Hampshire County Council is asking for the views of service users, other stakeholders and members of the public, on a proposed new Family Support Service for families with children aged 0–19 years (or up to age 25 for young adults with learning difficulties and/or disabilities).

The theory of a 0-19 united service is a positive move, and one that has been developing over the last few years through the way professionals have been working closer together.

Worryingly though the proposal includes the closing of 43 Children’s Centres, and reducing the current staffing levels (currently 300 employees) for the Children’s Centres and the Early Help Hub by 60%.

The context is clearly driven by economic challenges: the County Council must meet a funding shortfall of £98 million by April 2017, and of this, the Council have decided that £21.5 million must be met from the Children’s Services budget.  These proposals for changes to Children’s Centres and Early Help Hubs total £8.5 million of savings.

What are Children’s Centres & Early Help Hubs?

Introduced 17 years ago by the Labour government as Sure Start, children’s centres are designed to help parents in the community, providing a central hub for activities for under 5s, early education, health and family support. They have faced heavy cuts as a result of dwindling council budgets and hundreds have closed over the past five years, either by shutting down entirely or through mergers.

The Early Help Hub is a more recent innovation that came as a result of The Munro Review of Child Protection which argued a moral argument, a timing argument (now or never) to put right the problems in early years support; and an economic argument that early help hub was cost effective.

 

 

10 reasons we MUST keep Children’s Centres & Early Help Hubs

  1. The high level of reach: In the New Forest East cluster of Children’s Centres reach 84.5% of children under the age of 5 (3,648 out of 4319 children) – these are children who engage with universal and targeted services (this is 12.1% above the Hampshire County Council average).  Even in the most deprived area of the cluster (Cadland and Forest First Children’s Centre) 83.7% of families are reached with universal and targeted activities.
  2. The support and development of parenting skills: over 4,600 parents in the last year across Hampshire had attended evidence-based parenting programmes such as PEEP, Positive Parenting Programme (Triple P) or Incredible Years in the last year.
  3. The number of parents supported into work and education: Over 1,000 parents across Hampshire have been supported into work, education, training or volunteering by their local Children’s Centre.
  4. The support and development of health lifestyles: 514 parents attended evidence based healthy lifestyle programmes such as Cook & Eat and Henry.
  5. The increase in accessing Early Years education: the Children’s Centres have actively promoted the 2 year old offer, and by Autumn term 2015 78% of eligible children were taking up the free entitlement in Good or Outstanding settings.  In the the area of highest deprivation in the cluster (Holbury and North Blackfield) there is an 84% take-up rate.
  6. The support of parental health: research has shown using Children’s Centres in a consistent way predicted improved mental health outcomes for mothers later on, and taking children to organised activities (anywhere although Children’s Centres currently lead the way on under 5s provision) also predicted improved physical health outcomes for the mother.  Most importantly the research showed that mothers who attended centres that were expanding services (in combination with no cuts to services) also showed improving mental health compared to mothers attending centres that experienced budget cuts and were reducing services.
  7. The support for Child Protection: 100% of children on Child Protection Plans are known to the Children’s Centres through routine notification by the Social Care Team and a very large majority in the New Forest East cluster (88.4%) are actively engaged (10.7% higher than the Hampshire average).
  8. The economic dangers: the National Audit Office states that it costs £33k to put a child into foster care, and £135k to put a child into residential care.  All it takes is 258 children (23.45 children per District) taken into foster care or 63 children (5.7 children per District) taken into residential care for the whole of the £8.5m savings to be wiped out.  Q1 of 2015 saw 2,073 children open to the Early Help Hub across Hampshire, of which 55% were stepped down from Child Protection and Child in Need plans and 45% were referred up from other agencies.  If Early Help Hub services are dismantled how many more children and young people will end up on Child Protection plans?
  9. The political damage: only a few months ago Hampshire County Council stated that “The 2015-18 Children’s & Young People’s Plan will continue to be underpinned by our commitment to early help for children, young people and their families, identifying as early as possible whether a child or family need support, enhancing parental capacity, helping them to access services, and working together to ensure this has maximum impact.” – is this just another example of a broken promise by politicians.
  10. The voluntary sector cannot do anymore: running throughout the Hampshire consultation is the assumption that the voluntary sector will step in and run more universal and low-level targeted support.  In the last year the voluntary sector has seen grants from Hampshire County Council shrink from £2.4m to £1.1m and yet they expect the voluntary sector to be able to increase their service capacity.  In the New Forest Early Help Hub nearly 50% of cases are led and co-ordinated by members of the voluntary sector, again if there are 60% reductions in staffing who is going to be taking on the co-ordination of these cases?

Two-thirds of England’s children’s centres, more than 2,300, have had their budget cut in the past year, according to an annual census by the charity 4Children. These cuts follow four consecutive years of shrinking finances and means that almost a quarter report facing a highly uncertain future.  More than half of the Children’s Centres  who had experienced a cut said it would mean reductions to frontline services.  Now, a further 130 centre sites are at risk of closure, according to the 4Children research.

Quotes from key leaders

Imelda Redmond, the charity’s chief executive, said:

“More than a million families use children’s centres. No other part of our national infrastructure offers the same opportunity to identify and address problems early; bring communities together and make public services work better for families.”

“Year on year reductions to children’s centre budgets are a real cause for concern. Our census shows that cuts are directly impacting on their abilities to reach out and support families. The trend towards targeting services on the most vulnerable risks missing those families who we would otherwise only see through universal services.”

The shadow Education Secretary, Lucy Powell, said:

“We’ve had nothing but broken promises from this Government on Sure Start. There are now 763 fewer centres since 2010 and services are withering on the vine in many areas.”

A DfE spokesperson said:

“We want to see strong children’s centres across the country, offering a wide range of local, flexible services, tackling disadvantage, and helping all children fulfil their potential. That is why we invested more than £2bn in early intervention last year.”

What can you do?

Please sign the petition to save the Hampshire Children’s Centres.

Most importantly please add your views to the Consultation that Hampshire County Council are running.

Government report revealing full impact of cuts to children’s centres

A damning report which revealed the full extent of the harm done by funding cuts to children’s centres was among more than 400 statements, documents and reports quietly released by the Government just before Christmas.

A six-year study by Oxford University researchers ‘The impact of children’s centres: studying the effects of children’s centres in promoting better outcomes for young children and their families‘ highlighted how children’s centres – often known as Sure Start – were making a difference in some of the poorest areas of the country, but have suffered acutely from cuts or restructuring.

The final report was agreed in August, but the Department for Education (DfE), which commissioned it, quietly slipped it out on 17 December, along with hundreds of other statements, documents and reports.

The study is the most detailed ever conducted into the impact of children’s centres on the families who use them. The researchers examined 117 children’s centres in 2011 and 2013 – many of which may have been hit by further cuts since – and analysed interviews with more than 2,600 parents who used them, in order to calculate the impact the centres were having on families using different types of service.

Hampshire Libraries

I’m a big fan of libraries.  I grew up regularly going into town to get out a wide range of books – especially biographies, sport and history books.

Hampshire Library Service, like so many others across the country, has been going through a review as part of the austerity measures.  A paper on ‘Library Service Transformation – Strategy to 2020‘ is due to be considered at the Culture & Communities Select Committee on 22nd March.

Hythe_LibraryWith my current role I find it difficult to make the time to regularly get to the library, let alone read for enjoyment.  But one of the best discoveries I made in recent years was the opportunity to download and read e-Magazines for free from the Hampshire Library Service.

More recently I’ve learnt that you can borrow up to 5 e-books and/or audio books for up to 14 days for free?  You can download eBooks and eAudio books onto your ereader, desktop, laptop or mobile device using Overdrive.

  • up to 5 items can be borrowed at a time
  • up to 14 day lending period depending on item
  • no charge for loans

For more information please do visit the Hampshire Library Service website.

 

Plans to freeze benefits for four years ‘will hit 7 million children’

The Children’s Society has urged ministers to reconsider plans for a four-year freeze on a range of benefits and agree a moratorium on future welfare cuts for low-income families. The charity made the call after its research suggested that the plans risk pushing more children into poverty.

More than 7 million children living in low-income families will be affected by a four-year freeze to their benefits that risks pushing many more into poverty, according to new research.  The report says families could lose up to 12% from the real value of their benefits over the next four years as a result of government plans to freeze child tax credits, working tax credits and jobseekers’ allowance from April.

The charity is calling on ministers to reconsider the planned freeze and agree to a moratorium on any further cuts in support for low-income families. It says almost two thirds of those who will be adversely affected live in working households who receive benefits to top up low pay.

Matthew Reed, Children’s Society chief executive, said:

“Families on low incomes are facing a barrage of cuts. If ministers are genuinely concerned about child poverty they must reconsider plans to freeze benefits over the next four years.

“At the very least, the government needs to guarantee there will be no further cuts when the chancellor delivers his budget next month.

“Austerity has hit families hard, including those in work. Further cuts to support would push more children into poverty and undermine incentives for families to move into work or earn more.”

The research paper The Future of Family Incomes is well worth reading.

Church doesn’t welcome the working class

I’ve been chewing over an article that Chine McDonald,  the Director of Communications & Membership at the Evangelical Alliance, recently wrote on the way in which the church is overwhelmingly full of people from a middle class background:

Our society is vastly, scarily unequal. The opportunities that are assumed by some are beyond the realms of possibility for most others.

But sadly it seems fewer places are more unequal than the UK Church itself. Recent Talking Jesus research commissioned by the Evangelical Alliance, the Church of England and HOPE, shockingly revealed that 81 per cent of practising Christians have a university degree.

I found it a deeply concerning statistic when you take into account that most people in the UK do not go to university.

She goes on to write:

If we’re going to be a Church for all, we’ve got to rethink some of the church practices that are vestiges of culture rather than true expressions of our faith in Jesus. Encouragingly the Fresh Expressionsmovements springing up around the UK are doing just this.

We’ve got to be truly welcoming of people who are not like us. We’ve got to be prepared to be uncomfortable and not force people into the moulds that make them seem more palatable to us.

There’s a great quote in one of my favourite musicals My Fair Lady in which Professor Henry Higgins embarks on an experiment to turn “common flower girl” Eliza Dolittle into a lady fit for a king.

“The difference between a lady and a flower girl,” Eliza says, “is not how she behaves, but how she is treated.”

The thing that will ultimately draw people of all backgrounds to faith in Jesus is treating them with a profound love that comes not from ourselves, but from God. That’s love: not exclusivity or judgment about whether we’re wearing the right clothes or pronouncing the words correctly. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).

Let’s love people into the Church and pray they’ll realise that because of the cross, they’re already fit for the King.

Why are young people drinking less alcohol?

Girl drunk on bench

There was a fascinating article published in New Statesman about how young people are drinking less and that individual alcohol consumption in Britain has declined sharply.

Whenever horrific tales of the drunken escapades of the youth are reported, one photo reliably gets wheeled out: “bench girl”, a young woman lying passed out on a public bench above bottles of booze in Bristol. The image is in urgent need of updating: it is now a decade old. Britain has spent that time moving away from booze.

Here’s some useful facts pulled from the article:

  • In 2013, the average person over 15 consumed 9.4 litres of alcohol, 19 per cent less than 2004.
  • As with drugs, the decline in use among the young is particularly notable: the proportion of young adults who are teetotal increased by 40% between 2005 and 2013.
  • 80% of adults are making some effort to drink less
  • There are 13% fewer pubs in the UK than in 2002.

Bye Buy Childhood report by Mothers’ Union

Bye Buy Childhood

The pressure of consumerism increases during the run up to Christmas. The Mothers’ Union have published their latest Impact Report from their Bye Buy Childhood campaign, focusing on children as children, not consumers. Lots of resources to help churches and families think through the issues.

Archbishop of Canterbury signs letter seeking equality for mental health

Justin WelbyA campaign to raise awareness of mental health issues was launched today, backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, former Olympians, military officers and senior business figures.  More than two fifths of adult men under the age of 45 have considered taking their own lives, a YouGov poll has revealed.

Two hundred celebrities, politicians, business leaders and more have signed a letter calling for equality between physical and mental health in advance of the government spending round.

The new campaign is being led by Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat former health minister; Alastair Campbell, the former Downing Street director of communications; and Andrew Mitchell, the former Tory Cabinet minister. Each has faced mental health problems himself or in his family.

It calls on the government to address the historic inequality between mental and physical health, highlighting lack of access to treatment, lengthy waiting times, inadequate crisis care, use of police cells and the 20 year gap in life expectancy between those with mental health problems and the rest of the population.

The signatories say:

“We ask for the same right to timely access to evidence-based treatment as is enjoyed by those with physical health problems. We accept, and urge ministers to accept, that this will require additional investment in mental health services.  Ministers have accepted that whatever improvements in attitude may have been made in British society, those who experience mental ill-health still do not get a fair deal from our health services. In effect they suffer discrimination in our publicly-funded NHS. This must be addressed.”

 

Support for children’s mental health must move into the 21st century

ChildComLogo

The Children’s Commissioner for England says most children are looking to the internet for information about mental health issues. She has called for young people’s mental health websites to carry a ‘health warning’ with some sort of kite mark system to guarantee the quality of the information given, but she says more help and counselling should be provided in schools and youth clubs.

Young people want trustworthy information about mental health issues and also more accessible drop-in mental health support. Research found that young people are more likely to seek help about mental health issues from a friend (50%) than a parent (43%), mental health professional (40%) or doctor (40%). Only 18% would turn to their school nurse.

A new animated guide to mental health care care in England was launched ahead of World Mental Health Day by the Kings Fund; exploring the mental health services and how they work alongside other health and public services.