Sixty Second Interview with Beverley HughesBy Amy Taylor
If you want to achieve one thing while you are children’s minister what would it be?
I’d like to be able to see demonstrable signs that not only are the outcomes and achievements of all children improving, but the inequalities between the most disadvantaged and the rest are closing. Our reforms are fundamentally about social justice and I want to ensure they make a real difference to the life chances of the children who need them most.
Children’s services professionals have been put through a number of changes recently with the Children Act 2004 and the children’s green paper. How do you intend to try to keep the momentum going?
The workforce represents a huge investment – and it is full of dedicated, hard-working people, committed to improving children’s lives.
I’m very clear that what is needed from the centre are structures that offer rewarding and fulfilling careers (for everyone who wants one) and systems that enable people to work better together.
Later this year we will be publishing our response to the Children’s Workforce Strategy consultation – and that response will make very clear the importance this government places on having the right people, with the right skills, in the right places, able to deliver the services that children, young people and families need and want.
The Education and Skills Select Committee has expressed strong doubts about whether the reforms in Every Child Matters can be achieved without extra funding and through efficiency savings being made by services working in a more joined up way as the government argues. Will ministers look at providing more money if sufficient savings are not produced?
There are already significant resources devoted to improving outcomes for children and young people in local authorities, local health services and other partners. Many of these will not only improve outcomes but also improve efficiency by removing duplication of services and bring budgets together.
The government recently launched Youth Matters, the youth green paper, do you think that teenagers have been neglected over recent years with policy instead focusing on children and, if so, will this document change this?
I don’t think teenagers have been neglected. We have worked hard to support Young People and Youth Matters reflects some of the achievements to date including improving the Youth Service and establishing the Connexions Service.
But Every Child Matters changed the way in which services for young people are delivered locally. It was right to take the opportunity to reflect on those achievements and look to build on what worked well, and change those things that were less effective. My expectation is that Youth Matters will deliver even better services for teenagers.
Many campaigners argue that the government has demonised young people through its range of antisocial behaviour policies. What do you think about this argument and what are you trying to do to get across more positive images of young people?
The government is clear that antisocial behaviour is unacceptable and is determined to make progress to tackle it by ensuring that everyone – not just children and young people – has an appropriate sense of their rights and responsibilities. Our focus is just as much about adults as it is the minority of children and young people who get involved in behaviour that has a negative impact on their local community. Where this happens, we are not afraid to respond firmly. But we must also remember that young people are disproportionately affected by crime and antisocial behaviour.
We want to make sure that all young people are given the best chance in life to succeed – and to make the most of their teenage years. And young people today are thriving; they are working hard at school , achieving more and going on to study at college or university or to find a job . Young people also make a great contribution to society and the communities in which they live through for example volunteering . All their achievements were recognised in the Green Paper Youth Matters which we published earlier in the year.
But, we want to do more to acknowledge the excellent examples which young people can set. Many award schemes already celebrate the contribution that young people, including the Millennium Volunteer of the Year Award and the Philip Lawrence Award and we are currently considering whether a single national youth volunteering award should be developed.
And, while we want to go further and ensure that all young people have access to more opportunities to places to go and positive things to do in their communities – proposals for which we set out in Youth Matters – it is not without qualification. It is wrong that young people who do not respect the opportunities they are given, by committing crime or behaving antisocially should benefit from the same opportunities as the law-abiding majority. We need to strike a balance between rights and responsibilities, supporting young people to take up the opportunities that are available to them, while at the same time challenging them to behave in a way which does not adversely affect their community.
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