Chief defends charity`s decision to pull out of Wales

The chief executive of the Children’s Society has defended
the charity’s decision to withdraw from Wales and scale down
its work in England, writes Clare

Ian Sparks said the meeting last week in Wales, where he told
staff the charity would finish working there in July 2002, was
“very emotional” and there was “naturally a feeling of shock and

But he made it clear the financial situation facing his
organisation meant stark choices had to be faced. Sparks and the
trustees had looked into every alternative, but did not want to
balance the books in the short term then have to make further cuts
in years to come. The charity aims to break even by March 2003.

The charity estimates that it will finish this financial year
with a deficit of £4 million, which follows deficits of
£24 million in total over the last four years.

Sparks, who retires in March 2002, said it was imperative that
achievable fundraising targets were set and essential cuts made
now, to ensure his successor had a clean slate to take the charity
forward from next Easter.

In addition to the £1.3 million savings made in Wales, the
society is making cuts totalling £5.1 million in England in
its projects, fundraising and corporate services. The charity plans
to change its focus to becoming a “social justice organisation” to
campaign to persuade the government to adopt their recommendations,
and include them in their policies.

“It is vital that we retain our independence if we are to
challenge injustice, which is why voluntary income is so important
to us,” Sparks said.

“We want to challenge the injustices children face by taking
their experiences forward to influence policy makers,” he

The society will campaign to end the imprisonment of under-18s
and will continue to lobby on young people’s issues. Some of
the charity’s existing programmes, including Safe on the
Streets and Housing and Social Exclusions/Homelessness will be
transferred to beacon status with a reduced practice base.

Speaking to Community Care, Sparks said the charity
could have taken the easier option of dropping the difficult
campaigning issues, but that they “didn’t want to settle for
a middle of the road, safe situation”.

“These decisions mark a turning point for The Children’s
Society both in setting finances straight and in moving towards our
vision for the future of the society,” he said.

In Wales, the society is currently in discussions with local
authorities, major voluntary organisations, ministers and the
assembly about how the projects are to be taken over. In England it
will look to pass funding of projects to other organisations or
initiatives, such as Sure Start.




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