It’s the people who matter

The Children Bill is now an Act, and it will eventually affect
everyone working with children and young people. Structural and
management changes, shared outcome measures and information-sharing
mean that publicly funded, universal services – especially
education and health – will be obliged to do more to support
disadvantaged children. It’s easy to forget that 10 years
ago, politicians showed no interest in children’s lives until
a child hit the headlines as a result of committing a serious
offence (like the boys who killed James Bulger) or by dying in
tragic and horrifying circumstances.

The new Children Act reflects a society taking more care of its
children. Unfortunately, instead of caring for children because
they deserve decent lives and opportunities, the government is
mainly concerned with preventing them from causing trouble to other
people. As a result it has avoided the language of children’s
rights, and has not held a genuine consultation with children about
what changes are needed. It has also made sure England’s
children’s commissioner will be firmly harnessed to its own,
rather than children’s, agenda.

However, the people who will be implementing the Children Act
won’t be politicians, they will be front-line staff and their
managers. Research has shown again and again that what makes a
difference to children, and to parents too, is not structures and
frameworks but the quality of the relationship they have with the
professionals they deal with. Children and young people need
warmth, kindness, integrity and a sense of humour. They need adults
to treat them as individuals and show them respect, to challenge
them but also to listen carefully, and do what they say they will
do. The Act, and the swathes of guidance that will follow it, will
not change that.

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