David Cameron should focus his Big Society agenda on how it can be used to reduce the incidence of abuse and neglect, according to research commissioned by Action for Children.
The report, carried out by the influential thinktank Respublica, said the Big Society needed to ask “can the community itself, and the people living within it, take more ownership of the task of keeping local children safe, reaching out to and caring for isolated and marginalised families?”.
It suggested that the first line of defence against abuse and neglect – “namely early and ongoing care and support to prevent the accumulation of risks to children” – was a community that “looks out for children and families”, recognised family distress and responded “in an attitude of good neighbourliness”. The report presents a vision of reciprocal arrangements where the onus is not only on receiving support but on giving it.
It said such a move required social capital (existing resources and social structures within communities), to play a role in the prevention of neglectful parenting and domestic violence. Religious affiliation and social support for mothers were cited as factors that could reduce the risk of abuse and neglect to two to five year olds.
The authors pointed out that social capital did not necessarily need financial investment but simply required existing services to take a different approach.
“Family services can organise activities and the management of activities in ways that enhance the interaction and participation of families,” the authors said. “Services can go further and adopt the principle of ‘co-production’, where users become partners, where the service facilitates rather than fixes, and where everyone gives and receives.” The report cited the example of time banks where people can use any time spent volunteering as a “credit” to gain services in return.
Dame Clare Tickell, chief executive of Action for Children, said: “The Big Society agenda must have the next generation at its heart if it is to have a future. It is essential that solutions for children, young people and families are part of wider and serious attempts to rebuild communities, and create social capital for people who might otherwise live isolated and vulnerable lives.”
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