The prime minister has announced plans for a green paper to take
forward preventive work with children and young people. “A good
thing too!” would be our normal response, but this announcement had
us asking “What kind of prevention?” As Children and Young
People’s Unit director Althea Efunshile makes clear in this
issue of 0-19, the emphasis will be firmly on “radical options” to
tackle offending, antisocial behaviour, educational failure and
ill-health. And underpinning them all will be the identification,
referral and tracking (IRT) of children deemed to be at risk,
already trailed as taking the lion’s share of the new money
going into the Children’s Fund.
Of course, it makes perfect sense to catch up with children
before they reach crisis point. The question is, how? The worry
must be that the government, led by the Home Office and minister
for young people John Denham, will realign services for children in
need so that the focus is on the prevention of youth crime. The IRT
initiative itself emerged from the government’s determination
to curb street crime and there is a danger that the direction of
policy will be dictated by the desire to win votes rather than the
interests of young people.
That the interests of children may come off second best is
suggested by the almost total absence of consultation with children
and their families before the IRT initiative was announced. This in
spite of the Children and Young People’s Unit’s mission
to promote the participation of children and young people in
policy-making. But how successful can this kind of initiative be if
families fail to buy into it?
The green paper, when it comes out early in the new year, will
herald an overhaul of a wide range of youth justice, education and
social services. If the government really wants these children to
prosper, as it says it does, the consultation process this time
around must be thorough and effective.