Affluence belies needs

Gerrards Cross is a picturesque village in a leafy corner of south
Buckinghamshire. Exclusive boutiques line the village’s high street
and Range Rovers deliver blazer-clad children to its numerous prep

It is hardly surprising that Gerrards Cross has the lowest level of
child deprivation and poverty in England. Save the Children’s
report says just 0.5 per cent of children there are classified as
living in poverty.

Buckinghamshire has a population of 479,000, of whom 7,000 live in
Gerrards Cross. About 21 per cent of the county’s residents are
under 17. There are few people from ethnic minorities living in the

Buckinghamshire’s children and families service receives about
2,800 referrals a year, half of which need an assessment. As at
last April, the one-star social services department had 240
looked-after children, 125 foster carers and supported 151 young
care leavers. There were 131 children on Buckinghamshire’s child
protection register at 31 August this year. The county has 1,940
children classified in need. Of the four of these who live in
Gerrards Cross, three have disabilities.

Clearly, compared with parts of the Wirral, some 200 miles away,
the quality of life for most south Buckinghamshire children is
vastly superior. But what is it like for children living in the
villages there? What sort of problems do they and their families
face? And what services do the voluntary sector and the council

The charity Home-Start offers three hours of weekly support to
parents with children under school age and confronts problems
ranging from post-natal depression to dealing with triplets.

Sue Prebble, joint organiser of Home-Start for the Wycombe district
for eight years, estimates that just over half of the 61 clients
who the charity’s 38 volunteers helped in the year to March 2002
live on benefits. “We deal with all the usual family problems but
they are compounded by poverty,” she says. “In places like the
Wirral everyone is in the same boat but it’s not like that

Prebble cites a lack of suitable shops and affordable transport as
a major problem for poorer families. “If a family receives milk
tokens there is nowhere they can use them except in the centre of
High Wycombe and the bus fare is too expensive.”

Targeting parents and their children with the highest needs in
south Buckinghamshire is challenging, says Pam Rolfe, a support and
development worker at the charity, Parents as First Teachers.

Based in the Francis Edmonds school in the pretty village of Lane
End, Rolfe provides monthly hour-long child development support to
19 families with very young children. Her colleague, Helen Beeson,
works with 10 families locally. Rolfe says: “Families with high
needs can sometimes be harder for us to visit because they seem to
have very busy lives.”

She says getting parents to think about their child’s needs can be
tough. “Our philosophy is that parents want what’s best for their
child. This is a pair of Nike trainers for some and a solid
education for others.”

One problem that disabled children face in south Buckinghamshire is
a shortage of volunteer respite carers. Janet Vale, a social worker
with the children with disabilities team’s Take a Break service, is
responsible for recruiting and assessing volunteer respite carers
and works with 16 carers and eight befrienders.

She says Take a Break relies on volunteers with professional
experience of children with disabilities to give their families
some much needed time out.

Kathy Forbes, Buckinghamshire’s children with disabilities service
manager, says that finding suitable volunteers is difficult because
the service is competing against charities that also want
volunteers. “People can be threatened by the thoroughness of our
vetting process,” she says.

Catherine Wilson is the area manager of the South Buckinghamshire
youth team, which is the only statutory service provided to
children and young people living in Gerrards Cross. She oversees
the youth club, housed in a wooden hut next to the village’s white
stone memorial centre. She runs a club for eight to 12 year olds on
Monday evenings, one for 13 to 19 year olds on Tuesdays and one for
young people with learning difficulties on Wednesdays.

Wilson says different children use the junior and senior clubs.
Those from more affluent backgrounds attend the junior club while
young people from the local housing estate go to the senior club.
“Middle class kids don’t come to the senior club because they see
the kids there as being different from them,” she says.

Young people in Gerrards Cross are also up against the village’s
conservative nature, says Wilson. “Young people hanging out in the
streets are seen as threatening and any graffiti or litter is a
huge issue,” she says. “People in Gerrards Cross see it as ‘young
people creating havoc’.”

To tackle antisocial behaviour in south Buckinghamshire, the youth
service established a partnership with the police to develop
voluntary acceptable behaviour contracts. In its first year, 26
young people signed the six-month contracts.

In September 2000 Buckinghamshire’s children’s service and
Buckinghamshire NHS Mental Health Trust launched a project to
support 11 to 17 year olds and their families or carers at risk of
breakdown. In its first year the project helped 181 young people
with a range of problems.

Mel Nash, deputy manager of the multi-agency rapid response
service, says: “We are not perceived as the local authority and
that helps us offer a more flexible service. Young people don’t
want the stigma attached to going to those places for help.”

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.