Tessa Jowell is secretary of state for culture, media
and sport and has been the MP for Dulwich and West Norwood since
1992. Before her election to parliament, she had a career in
psychiatric social work, social policy and public sector

An extensive consultation process in 2003 asked children across
the country to highlight the issues that really matter to them. It
identified five key desires: to be healthy, to stay safe, to enjoy
and achieve, to make a positive contribution and to achieve
economic well-being.

The Children Act 2004 enshrined those outcomes in legislation and
changed the emphasis of the work we do with children from crisis
intervention to effective prevention. Every Child Matters is a
programme that presents the vision that every child and young
person from babyhood to 19 can achieve their potential with the
support of an integrated network of children’s services and more
child-friendly environments.

Both my department and the Department for Education and Skills
believe that play, recreation and leisure outcomes sit equally
alongside the others that authorities and their partners need to
consider when making decisions about the provision of co-ordinated
children and young people’s services.

Play is of huge value to children. Good play opportunities are
essential to children’s development. Play provides enriching
experiences that can help to develop children’s emotional and
social skills and may even reduce the risk of them developing
mental health problems in later life. Research highlights the
importance of children at play being able to learn about risks and
use their own initiative.
It also suggests that it is essential for them to have
opportunities to practise making and consolidating friendships and
to deal with conflict – the basic skills needed in order to become
“emotionally literate”.

Children themselves identify meeting and spending time with their
friends as one of the most important opportunities offered by play
and play provision. Play gives children the chance to experience
and express the full range of emotions in a “safe” way. Research
suggests that play may also promote resilience through fostering
feelings of self-esteem.

As secretary of state for sport, I recognise above all play’s role
in encouraging children to engage in physical activity and helping
reduce the risk factors that lead to childhood obesity. This is an
issue of increasing concern to everyone and recognised in Choosing
Health, the recently published public health white paper. Contrary
to some popular myths about modern children, there is evidence that
they themselves widely prefer physically active, outdoor

However, there are barriers to children pursuing outdoor play. One
of the main reasons children give for not playing outdoors more is
that they and their parents are afraid for their safety. Fear of
strangers, traffic and bullying by other children combine to keep
children in their homes. Well-maintained streets and public spaces
attract more people and feel safer. Staff, such as street wardens
and play rangers in parks, who understand children and young
people’s need to play, can transform their outdoor play
opportunities. Open-access staffed play provision, like adventure
playgrounds, offer all local children and young people both
security and challenge in space that is uniquely theirs.

One way of overcoming obstacles to play and recreation is involving
children and young people in local play audits and discussions
about their play and leisure time needs. This results in more
appropriate provision, helps children and young people to develop
their skills and knowledge and ensures they are valued as active
community members. Increasingly, local authorities and community
groups are involving children in this way and this will be a key
element in the duty to co-operate going forward.

Local authorities can do more to improve children’s play
opportunities. They can plan strategically across departments and
with local organisations, ensure that high quality spaces and a
variety of supervised and unsupervised provision is available to
all, provide adequate resources and invest in a workforce of play
workers, play rangers and play development officers.

Changes in front-line services can only be brought about by strong
local partnerships, where local authorities work with other
partners to assess local needs and commission services that best
meet them. This is where the duty to co-operate comes in. From the
beginning of this month local authorities will take the lead in
establishing arrangements for all public, private, voluntary and
community organisations to work together in the shape of local
children’s trusts. An essential feature of children’s trusts will
be the full engagement of all key partners.

There will be several key partners in the children’s trusts,
including primary care trusts, local authorities, the police,
schools, voluntary and community organisations, children, young
people and their families themselves.

Some of these groups will be using services, others supplying them,
but all will have their own areas of expertise and experience of
what works in practice. In addition, authorities and local partners
will be able to draw on the lessons from children’s trust
pathfinders and the national evaluation of children’s trusts, in
determining what arrangements are likely to be most effective

Local partners will need to work closely together to assess local
needs, set priorities for action, identify and pool relevant
resources, plan services and decide together how best to commission
and provide them. These arrangements will reaffirm authorities’
traditional role in local leadership. They also mean a significant
shift in their role, from that of providers and deliverers of
services to one which is more about developing and managing local
markets and ensuring quality provision on behalf of children and
young people.

Joint commissioning is a complex process and guidance will be
available. Most local authorities will have agreed children and
young people’s plans which will have to show how the needs of
children will be met and resourced.

I am confident that the duty to co-operate will lead to different
local authority departments and local organisations working
together through the children’s trusts to provide a good range of
play opportunities for children and young people of all ages,
abilities and interests.

This article looks at the importance of play in the
Every Child Matters programme and how it will be affected by the
duty of local authorities and other partners to co-operate, which
came in at the beginning of this month.

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