Hopefully the children’s green paper will join up the work
of statutory and voluntary agencies serving children in our often
overlooked rural communities, writes Ian Vallender.
The proposals that will soon be set out in a green paper provide
the best opportunity for this government yet to address the needs
of children and young people at risk.
But if these proposals are about “ensuring that we prevent
children and young people from dropping out of education,
committing crime, and suffering from family conflict and
ill-health” (Paul Boateng, 30 October 2002) then policies must take
account of the needs of those in rural communities as well as
The original focus of the green paper was on the identification,
referral and tracking (IRT) of children at risk and the provision
of mainstream and specialist services to them. Reaching children
and young people who live in rural areas will require more
commitment, time and energy than reaching those who live in towns.
IRT will eventually, it is hoped, help to co-ordinate the spectrum
of services. Joining up services for children up to the age of 18
who are dispersed and isolated, will not be achieved quickly.
One of the barriers to helping those at risk living in remote or
dispersed communities is lack of access – not just to the services
themselves, but to information about sources of help, advice and
support. This includes information about health services,
educational and training opportunities, and leisure
Low levels of service use do not necessarily reflect low level
of need. Sure Start schemes in rural areas are beginning to find
unmet need – especially in the area of mental health – and are
developing strategies to support families. These innovative
programmes can provide indicators of the challenges encountered and
the creative means employed to meet recognised needs of children
and their families.
The direct costs of providing health care in rural areas are
higher than elsewhere because of the need for mobile and outreach
services. Strategies to meet the physical and mental health needs
of children and young people should also address the issue of
cross-boundary service delivery.
For those at risk of antisocial behaviour, the causes may
include the lack of recreational and leisure facilities, and
perhaps the lack of a police presence. The report by the
Countryside Agency and NCH1 highlights the availability
of a wide range of drugs in some rural areas, and suggests that “it
raises the question of whether young people living in rural areas
are more vulnerable than their urban counterparts to drug and
alcohol misuse because of the lack of alternative pursuits and
In Cambridgeshire, for example, more young people (27 per cent)
in rural areas than in urban ones (18 per cent) use
The partnership work involved in delivering co-ordinated
services, involving children, young people, parents and community
leaders, is a serious challenge, and the engagement of the
voluntary and community sector, especially those serving ethnic
minority groups, can bring further complications. We hope that the
Treasury’s Future Builders fund, and the Home Office’s
voluntary capacity building initiative will help the voluntary
sector engage as more equal partners with statutory agencies to
deliver effective public services to all children and their
families, including those in rural areas.
Providing the green paper keeps its focus firmly on children,
and is based on evidence of what works then it should provide a
sound basis for agencies to work together to improve services for
children at risk.
1 Annie Mullins, Jacqui McCluskey and
Julie-Taylor Browne, Challenging the Rural Idyll,
2 Cambridge Health Authority Health
Improvement Plan, 2001
Ian Vallender is director, policy and information, at
the National Council for Voluntary Childcare