A leading children’s charity today called for an end to the “volatile, wasteful and reactive” policymaking towards children and young people which it said had dominated the past 21 years.
Ahead of the new parliamentary year, Action for Children, formerly NCH, said many policies have been driven by political point-scoring and media headlines rather than hard evidence.
Since 1987, there have been more than 400 initiatives, strategies and acts of parliament affecting children and young people in the UK, an expert report published by the charity today revealed. But governments have not allowed proper time to implement the “avalanche” of policies – more than three-quarters of which have been introduced under Labour in the past 10 years, it said.
As a result, children and social workers are failing to benefit from services that are subjected to frequent changes in policy, funding and structure, the study showed. Many children’s projects have “barely enough time to be set up and begin to deliver services before staff have to plan for reconfiguration or even closure due to lack of long-term funding”.
Policies have too often been triggered by high-profile tragedies, such as the death of eight-year-old Victoria Climbié in 2000, drawing resources to children at the “hard end” while leaving others in need. Disabled children have been “completely forgotten or tagged on as an afterthought” in many initiatives – until the Aiming Higher for Disabled Children programme, launched last year to expand short breaks and other services.
“Much policy development has been characterised by impatience and a reluctance to wait for hard evidence,” the report claimed. Labour’s flagship Sure Start scheme is among many put at risk due to “political pressure to produce new initiatives”.
Youth crime expert John Pitts, one of the report’s authors, said Labour’s most progressive youth policies have been undermined by “political expediency”. “Important initiatives have been derailed or reduced because of government acquiescence in the face of media criticism,” he said.
Another of the authors, Helen Dent (right), chief executive of charity Family Action, said the former Conservative government’s policies on children were “defined by a series of moral panics” about lone parents and ‘feral’ children, while Labour’s antisocial behaviour legislation led to parents being seen too often “as the cause of social ills”.
Action for Children is calling for all the main political parties to sign up to a 21-year “vision” for children and young people that would include funding any new initiative for at least six years and raising the position of children’s minister to a permanent cabinet-level post in all four UK nations
Clare Tickell (below right), chief executive of Action for Children, said it was “time to step back and ask whether we are putting children at the centre of what we do”. She suggested “proof-testing” children’s policies to measure how disruptive they would be to service users and social workers.
Ensuring policies work
“We have to get away from headline-grabbing policies that are not allowed time to bed down,” she added. Six-year policies, covering two spending reviews and more than one parliamentary term would help ensure that children’s policies work through thick and thin. My message to all parties would be ‘hold your nerve’.”
The former NCH relaunched as Action for Children this week in part to improve public awareness of the charity.
● Do you think policymaking on children’s issues is too short-termist? Have your say
● Put children’s minister on a permanent cabinet-level position in all four UK nations.
● Cross-party group should establish a 21-year vision for children and young people for all parties to sign up to.
● Any new initiative for children and young people should be funded for at least six years.
● Every government department and agency should examine how its policies have an impact on children and young people.
● All media organisations should set up consultation committees made up of young people.