Does every child really matter?

The title implies inclusiveness: Every Child
. The green paper launched this month does indeed
highlight a range of client groups with specific needs, and
certainly suggests that all children are covered. The question is
whether the commitment to inclusiveness is genuine or merely a
token gesture.

Four main areas are addressed in the document: increasing
professionals’ focus on supporting families and carers; ensuring
intervention before crisis point is reached and preventing children
slipping through the net; addressing weak accountability and poor
integration between services; and ensuring staff working with
children are rewarded, trained and valued.

But there is as much criticism about what has been left out of the
green paper as praise for what has been put in. In particular, more
could be done for several key client groups, say critics.

Children entering the country
This heading from the paper implies all children coming into
England. But the green paper makes clear that only unaccompanied
asylum-seeking children are covered. Such a distinction concerns
Alison Harvey, principal policy and practice manager at the
Children’s Society. She says all asylum-seeking children are in
need. “The government has targeted just one group of a large group
of children in need,” she says. “It is important and would be
helpful for accompanied asylum-seeker children to be identified but
they are not.”

Although Harvey believes the green paper should have explicitly
mentioned accompanied asylum-seeking children, she says it should
be taken as read that the entire document refers to all
asylum-seeking and refugee children. “We are mirroring the
prejudice asylum-seeking children suffer if, at every chapter, we
say it doesn’t apply to them because they are not named.”

As part of the green paper consultation, the government calls for
views on increasing support for unaccompanied asylum-seeking
children “building on the work of the children’s panels” run by the
Refugee Council to help children through the asylum process. Harvey
says this is a step in the right direction but “the government
shouldn’t leap on the panels and think chucking money at them is
the only way to go”.

Parents and carers of disabled children
Two paragraphs are devoted to supporting parents and carers of
disabled children. Francine Bates, chief executive of Contact a
Family, is pleased that parents and carers of disabled children are
specifically identified. “In previous initiatives aimed at children
and parents there has been no mention of disabled children and
their families’ needs,” she says.

The green paper urges more parents of disabled children to use
direct payments but the push for a greater uptake of direct
payments by service users is by no means new. Is this suggestion
enough? Although Bates agrees with promoting a wider use of direct
payments, she adds that the green paper is not a strategy for
disabled children. As a member of a National Service Framework for
Children working group she feels the NSF is “most appropriate way
to develop standards and comprehensive services for disabled

The green paper disappointed Lesley Campbell, national children’s
officer at learning difficulties charity Mencap. She calls it a
“missed opportunity” because it fails to refer to children with
learning difficulties. “It’s as if every child matters as long as
they don’t have a learning disability,” she says. She feels that
the green paper should have stated explicitly that children with a
learning difficulty are children in need and not leave it to local
authorities’ interpretation when planning services.

Young carers
A mere 18-line paragraph includes both young carers and the
government’s teenage pregnancy strategy. It says that the
children’s framework will look at children in special
circumstances, such as young carers.

Julie McLarnon, the Children’s Society policy and practice manager
on young carers, does not regard young carers’ inclusion as a token
gesture, but she is critical that the two client groups have been
combined despite their very different needs. “It is interesting
that pregnancy has been aligned with young carers, especially as
young mothers are not defined as young carers in any legislation or
guidance,” she says.

The document should have looked at conducting whole-family
assessments to determine what support a family needs to tackle
inappropriate caring, she adds.

Children with parents in jail
The green paper is “an expression of goodwill but not a great deal
more”, says Billie Ibidun, director of the charity Women in Prison.
She welcomes the call to improve services for children whose
parents are in prison but says it missed the opportunity to
consider the impact on the child if the primary carer is sent to
prison: “It has lumped the two groups of children together but they
have very different experiences.”

There is no prison or community service responsible for supporting
families in maintaining links when a member is jailed. Ibidun wants
improved family contact for prisoners and increased voluntary
sector involvement in service provision. “The prison system is
still insular and defensive. There has to be greater openness and
sharing of resources with outside agencies.”

Howard League for Penal Reform director Frances Crook says the
green paper looks at the problem back to front: “We are sending
parents to prison and then setting up services to deal with the
damage that is done to their children,” she says. “It is an
expensive and time-consuming exercise that does not serve the best
interests of the child or society.” Crook calls for a one-stop shop
service in a national network of children’s centres for those with
parents in prison to access advice and support.

Improving fostering and adoption services
Despite the Adoption and Children Act 2002 coming into effect only
last year, this client group receives the biggest mention. Felicity
Collier, chief executive of Baaf Adoption and Fostering, says this
shows the government is “beginning to understand” that these
children have special needs that need skilled carers.

The green paper’s suggestions include launching a national
recruitment campaign for more foster carers; paid leave for foster
carers and raising statutory adoption pay in line with maternity
pay; creating a 24-hour helpline for foster carers; and improving
short-break provision for foster carers.

Collier says that, although some of these ideas are far from new, a
greater emphasis on fostering is important. In another optimistic
move, chancellor Gordon Brown has invited her to outline the
mechanics of paying foster carers a salary. “We need people to look
at being a foster carer as a career option and they need the same
level of recompense as other social care staff.”

Although the green paper promises that every child matters, some
see the listing of particular groups as divisive. It begs the
question, what about the needs of those children who are not
identified? Will practitioners interpret the government’s message
as only affecting these named groups? Or will services strive to
improve their provision for all children as the government
undoubtedly intended? It is up to the sector to deliver that and
ensure that every child really does matter.

Every Child
, Department for Education and Skills,

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