George Hosking wants a “paradigm shift” in how government and councils tackle child maltreatment and has a plan to reduce it 70% by 2030.
The chief executive of the WAVE Trust, who will to outline the charity’s ’70/30’ plan this week at the National Children and Adults Services Conference (NCAS) in Manchester, says the problem with the current approach is that politicians “don’t do prevention”.
“They think they do, but they don’t really do serious prevention and until politicians start taking prevention seriously we won’t get the breakthroughs that we believe will deliver huge benefits both financially and for the lives of children,” he tells Community Care ahead of his talk.
WAVE’s goal of a 70% reduction in child maltreatment is deliberately bold, he says: “We wanted a target that nobody could ignore, that would be so challenging it would have to be taken seriously as something that requires action outside the ordinary – the ordinary is simply treating the symptoms.”
The charity’s solution is its Pioneering Communities Programme, which it intends to run between 2015 and 2020 and hopes will demonstrate the positive benefits to children and the financial case for preventative work.
And there’s already plenty of local authority interest. George says that 8 local authorities have already expressed an interest in becoming ‘pioneering communities’ and 20 councils have put forward their chief executives and directors of children’s services as potential members of the programme’s advisory board.
Categories of risk
WAVE’s goal is to run its programme of preventative work in six areas using a good system of risk assessment during pregnancy to identify families in circumstances that place children at risk of maltreatment.
The categories of risk include parents who were themselves maltreated, families where there is domestic violence or substance misuse, parents with mental health issues and parental attitudes during pregnancy that could raise concerns.
Once identified, these families would get additional support designed to improve outcomes for the child.
“We would envisage that both midwives and health visitors would be trained and supported, and that includes having the resources to do it, to carry out slightly more thorough examinations than currently are done,” says George.
This, he says, could include more thorough questionnaires and understanding of families’ personal backgrounds during pregnancy.
The success of the interventions would be measured by assessing the reduction of disorganised attachment, which contributes to higher levels of mental illness, children taken into care and entry into the criminal justice system.
He says that “all of these consequences have very high costs for society” and making a meaningful impact early in a child’s life will save large sums of public money.
Turning off the problem tap
“Essentially in this country we have a system of allowing children to be maltreated, waiting until someone reports that, responding to only a fraction of the cases that are flagged up to the authorities and then intervening far too late with far too little action to protect the child from the damage,” says George.
“The quality of services will just get worse and worse if we don’t have a paradigm shift in the way we tackle this, and the paradigm shift we are suggesting is that you turn off the tap on the flow of problems we are spending money on,” he says. “The way to turn off the tap is right at the beginning of life is getting children off to the best possible start.”
So far WAVE’s campaign has received support from chief whip Michael Gove, children’s minister Edward Timpson and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, but George says ministers often struggle to take preventative projects forward.
“They want to see a financial argument that it will save money and that’s what we intend to give them,” he says.