Concerns raised by professionals over children's nutrition

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More than four out of ten professionals who work with children have given food to a child in the last two years because they were worried they were not getting enough to eat, finds a new survey.

The online poll of more than 250 professionals working with children - including childminders, teachers and family intervention workers - reveals that 106 professionals (42 per cent) have given a child food in the last two years and 61 have given a child money to buy food.

Other respondents reported organising food hampers for families and taking parents to get emergency credit for electricity or gas cards so they could cook at home.

A further 85 per cent of professionals said they believed the children in their care are not getting enough to eat, with a third claiming that this is an everyday occurrence.

The survey, carried out ahead of the Children’s Food Trust annual conference on 19 March, also found that almost half of those working in schools have seen a change in the types of food in children’s lunchboxes as household budgets have got tighter.

Examples given by respondents included poorer quality food and more cheap junk food in children’s lunchboxes. Some reported that children come to school with just a packet of biscuits, cold cooked rice or cold chips with fish fingers.

Around half of the professionals surveyed said that knowing how best to use a limited food budget was the biggest challenge for families.
When asked what would help them to support children and families experiencing food poverty, respondents suggested offering cooking education to children and their parents, donating free fruit and vegetables, expanding the provision of free breakfast clubs, and improving the quality of school meals.

Linda Cregan, the incoming Children’s Food Trust’s chief executive, said, ‘The message here is that too many people who work with children are having to go above and beyond the call of duty to try to protect children from the effects of hunger and poor diet. Of course it’s a parent’s responsibility to make sure their child eats well. But as this and other surveys have shown, the reality is that this can be an enormous struggle.

‘Whether we like it or not, people working in these jobs are at the frontline of helping parents on this, so they need the right support. As local authorities develop their public health plans, ring-fencing funding to support children’s nutrition would be a good starting point.’

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