I’ve been working alongside you for 30 years with some of the most vulnerable children in this country, and as each new government came into power I would live with hope that something radical and meaningful would happen to make life better for maltreated children and the workers who dedicate their lives to them.
Wiser and older, I have come to realise that genuine political will is not focused on the plight of vulnerable children who survive childhood. They don’t vote so they can’t hold decision-makers accountable and when things go wrong I have watched hardworking professionals be vilified and blamed for what, in effect, are profound failures in political leadership.
Privately, professionals have shared their concerns with Kids Company: heads of services admitting they’re failing in their child protection duties because demand outweighs resources; a consultant psychiatrist leading an entire borough’s child mental health provision, crestfallen because he’s being told not to diagnose mental illness so that the money doesn’t have to be spent on the child.
Repeated governments have tried to bring about improvements, but in truth they tinker ineffectually with a bit of the social care structure and fund disparate initiatives, which bite the dust when the money runs out. But they lack the moral courage to bring about the radical reform that we all know is desperately needed and wanted.
So, I’ve decided the time has come to give everyone the opportunity to tell the truth. Practice that is effective should be cherished, and that which is unfit for purpose should be allowed to change. The children’s sector has to be prioritised in political discourse, alongside the economy, foreign affairs and the NHS.
We should no longer be left grateful for morsels of leftovers with which we’re required to do our child protection and child mental health work. If we could find the money for the Olympics and Crossrail, we can find it for the neglected, abused and mentally ill children of this country, irrespective of whether they vote or not, because it’s the right thing to do.
Where on earth would any civilised country think the following statistics represent quality?
- 3.5 million children in the UK are living in poverty (Barnados 2014)
- Almost 1.5 million children in the UK experience neglect (Action for Children 2014)
- 16% of children aged under 16 experienced sexual abuse during childhood (NSPCC)
- 1 in 10 children aged 5-16 suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder – that is around three children in every class (Young Minds)
- Over 500,000 children and young people are referred to social services as a cause for concern on a yearly basis (NSPCC)
- Of these, 43,140 were subject to a Child Protection Plan in England in 2012-13 (NSPCC)
- 73% of 600 social workers surveyed say they can’t do their job properly, leaving children at risk (Community Care 2013)
- 80% of 600 social workers surveyed said child protection thresholds are going up (Community Care 2013)
- Social workers can have over 40 life threatening cases each (Community Care 2014)
- 78% spend less than a third of their time in direct contact with children (BASW 2012)
- 88% of social workers surveyed said budget cuts have left children at increased risk of abuse (Community Care 2013)
- There’s been a 47% increase in child protection cases in England over the last 5 years (Professor Ray Jones 2014)
- And a 45% Increase in Children in need cases, suffering abuse or neglect 2011-12 (Professor Ray Jones 2014)
- Care applications in England are up by 70% since 2008 (Professor Ray Jones 2014)
- Local Authority core funding has been cut by 33% 2011-15 (Cooper C, 2013)
- Early intervention for Sure Start for has been cut by 20% (Cooper C 2013)
- Two thirds of local authorities have cut their budgets for child and adolescent mental health (Young Minds)
How can we reconcile with ourselves the fact that millions of children are suffering and not getting the help they need? The time has come to bin the apathetic response that has made child abuse a sick norm.
In 2011 I asked the Centre for Social Justice to evidence these failings. On 24 June they will release a report of 400 pages, which is devoted to professionals and children highlighting the profound systemic dysfunctions that betray them both.
Propelled by this evidence, Kids Company will be launching a campaign called See the Child, Change the System. We hope to bring the best minds in the country together to redesign children’s services. The campaign will have four areas of focus:
The Bank of Brilliant Ideas – This is where we want everyone (social workers and members of the public) to make suggestions for improvements or highlight good practice that should be cherished.
Evaluation and Accountability – Governments use just under 1% of research to inform policy, according to recent research. There are much better ways of evaluating and generating accountability without burdening workers with unrealistic targets and paper diarrhoea!
The Economics Team – We keep being told there’s no money so we’ve all got to shut up and put up. A team of the best economists will look at how to finance a new and more effective structure for the protection and treatment of vulnerable children.
The Philosophy of Childhood Team – Led by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, this team will focus on generating a philosophical infrastructure to help the nation have a more thoughtful and compassionate approach to vulnerable children.
We have championed the rights to racial dignity, sexual orientation and gender equality. The time has now come to make it a crime to refer to vulnerable children as ‘vermin who should be exterminated in gas chambers’ (statements by members of the public on radio).
In the context of the above tasks, diligent focus will be exercised to ensure workers in children’s social services and mental health have the appropriate structures to do their jobs without a corrosive attack on their wellbeing.
Once an ideal delivery model has been conceptualised, we hope to pilot it in an urban and rural setting. Then, if successful, we will encourage all political parties to sign up to a 15-year recovery plan, irrespective of who comes into power, and to fund it properly.
We are mobilising the general public in support of the social care sector and its children by encouraging them to place their votes and act as witnesses holding the government accountable.Gone are the days when political leaders relied on public apathy, keeping the issue of vulnerable children at the bottom of the political pecking order.
This is an unashamedly radical and confident intention. Playing it safe, keeping it neutral and minding not to offend, has betrayed the maltreated children of this country and the dedicated workers who intervene in their lives.
Not only am I not apologising for taking up this position, I’m actually asking you to join me in refusing to be compliant and servile on this issue. The safety and emotional health of our children is their right to dignity, and if adults can’t honour vulnerable children with robust care then they’re complicit in their maltreatment. We are, collectively, condoning child abuse.
It has to stop. We have to demand genuine action, refuse political placation and be as brave as the courageous kids who, despite being violated, look to us for hope and reparation.
You can be a part of the momentum for change by signing our petition at www.seethechild.org or texting “I SEE” to 63000 (standard network charges apply). Together we can show our politicians that we do care about vulnerable children.