The Social Care Institute for Excellence considers the barriers in the fight against child poverty and methods to overcome them
The UK government is committed to halving child poverty from 3.4m to 1.7m by 2010-11, from the baseline of 1999. But progress has been slow: in 2007-8, there were 2.9m children living in households with incomes below 60% of the median before housing costs – the same figure as in 2006-7.
Some groups of children are still at particularly high risk. Among these are those with unemployed parents, those from an ethnic minority, those who have one or more disabled adults in their family, children with three or more siblings, and those living in inner London.
Whole-area strategies are integral in efforts to reduce child poverty and improve outcomes for children, families and services. Key to this type of approach are agreed, shared and understood terminology and definitions; open channels of communication; strong leadership with clear governance and good accountability processes; strategies delivered in response to local needs; involvement of the full range of services and organisations in delivering the strategy; and a risk-taking ethos.
However, there are many barriers to delivering whole-area child poverty reduction strategies.
Collaborative barriers include:
● Reaching a consensus when many organisations and agencies are involved in direction, planning and delivery.
● A lack of strong senior management or an ineffective internal management structure.
● The difficulty in giving equal attention to poverty, social exclusion and quality of life issues. By focusing on the outcomes of Every Child Matters, for example, reducing poverty may not have a high priority.
● A lack of high-quality local data which is vital for accurate trend forecasting and financial planning. Data generation should therefore be seen as part of strategy development and implementation.
● Funding shortages and the lack of resources. Furthermore, complications of collaborative working can lead to underestimation of resource needs.
● Mistaking consultation for community-wide participation; shifts in policies having a negative impact on planning for participation; and a lack of understanding between local authorities and community-based organisations.
There are several key elements to developing and implementing successful whole-area child poverty strategies:
● A shared vision, which includes clearly defined positive outcomes, developed and embedded within the strategy.
● The vision should be understood by all stakeholders and the public. It should be supported and pushed forward by strong management and all-party support.
● All sectors should be involved in the strategy, including representatives from the community and private sectors. Everyone should be given clear roles and responsibilities that will make the best use of their particular expertise.
● The participation of children and families living on low incomes should be prioritised.
● Services should be designed to complement each other.
● Service design should take into account that, although poverty is usually regionalised, there are pockets of poverty everywhere.
● Organisational structures should encourage top-down and horizontal relationships. Local authorities should act as networking hubs to promote effective working relationships between organisations and individuals.
● Focus should be placed on services that lift and keep families out of poverty. These can include inexpensive childcare, employment advice, training and support, and community banking facilities.
● At least two years is needed for the development phase of a strategy, along with long-term investment to create a strategy that manages the complexities of the task.
Effective monitoring and assessment are required to feed into the development of whole-area strategies. These should be updated and developed as lessons are learned and good practice is shared.
For effective evaluation, whole-area partnerships should carry out the following:
● Set targets: Set outcomes-focused targets that can be monitored. Although the data to set accurate targets do not exist, partnerships should plan on the basis that data will be available in future.
● Performance monitoring: Indicators can be useful in performance monitoring in measuring whether actions are delivering the desired outcomes in an area. The development of indicators should be carried out in collaboration with the community and agreed by all. Whole-area partnerships should strengthen their assessment methods with evaluation. This enables partners to understand whether actions have led to the desired outcomes and how and to what extent they contributed.
● Revision of action plans: Monitoring activities should be used in action planning so that monitoring and formative assessment and activities to reduce child poverty occur simultaneously.
● Shared understanding of goals: This can play an important part in directing action and as a base for measuring effectiveness. However, establishing these goals can be difficult for language, culture and organisational reasons.
For effective monitoring and assessment, the people involved should have clear roles and responsibilities. Individuals should be allocated responsibility for providing information to set timescales. Sharing information so that all partners are informed of progress is key to effective monitoring. This can be achieved through routine assessments, e-mail updates and other methods.
C4EO Child Poverty Research Review 1: Child Poverty, The Centre for Excellence and Outcomes in Children and Young People’s Services www.c4eo.org.uk
Narrowing the Gap guidance. Good practice examples from a two-year project, funded by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, which examined ways to narrow the gap in outcomes between vulnerable and excluded children and their peers
● Whole-area strategies should focus on outcomes and a shared vision with all-party support and the understanding of stakeholders and the community.
● They should be based on evidence-informed decisions. The improvement of data generation and interpretation should be part of the strategy.
● Strategies need long-term financial support in order to be successful.
● Families living on low incomes and the community should be involved in the development of the strategy.
● The strategy should work to maximise and manage incomes.
● Efforts to do this can include training, childcare, employment opportunities and transport.
● Whole-area policies can be facilitated through agreed and shared terminology and open channels of communication as well as strong leadership and a risk-taking environment.
Author CORTIS Natasha
Title Evaluating area-based interventions: the case of Communities for Children
Reference Children and Society, 22(2), March 2008, pp112-123
Abstract Increasingly, governments in wealthy countries are designing early intervention initiatives around principles of community regeneration or place management. Because these initiatives are multi-site, aimed at long-term systemic change, and implemented amid a range of initiatives, assessing their quality and outcomes demands departure from conventional programme evaluation approaches. This article analyses the challenges of evaluating area-based interventions in the child welfare field and shows how the National Evaluation of Australia’s Communities for Children initiative seeks to overcome these through its mixed method design and the longitudinal Stronger Families in Australia study.
Author FITZPATRICK Suzanne
Title Poverty of place
Publisher University of York, 2005.
Abstract This paper focuses on spatial concentrations of poverty and wealth and the implications these have for people living in poverty. It addresses three questions: to what extent is there “poverty of place” in the UK, why does it matter, and what can be done about it?
Author JOSEPH ROWNTREE FOUNDATION
Title Ending child poverty in a changing economy
Reference Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2009
Abstract Summarises findings of research investigating the effect current policies will have on child poverty by 2010 and 2020. Taking account of the recession, it estimates the costs of meeting the government target of halving child poverty by 2010 and eliminating it by 2020 using the most recent data available.
Author DORNAN Paul
Title Localising the campaign against child poverty
Reference Benefits, 16(3), October 2008, pp269-277
Abstract Recent changes in the governance regime for local authorities in England allow them to choose tackling child poverty as a key indicator of their success. One in three has done so, with others having chosen related indicators. Although many of the levers required to meet the national objective of eradicating child poverty lie at the UK level, local authorities have a key role in helping to ensure that services are effective in targeting poverty. This article introduces the Child Poverty Toolkit website and explores what localising the national child poverty target may mean.
This article is published in the 22 October issue of Community Care magazine under the heading Developing whole-area child poverty strategies