Ahead of a widely anticipated general election, Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner for England, has written the document calling on Britain’s political parties to include a six-point plan in their election manifestos to improve the life chances of disadvantaged children and help all the 12 million children in England to thrive.
‘Guess How Much We Love You: A Manifesto for Children’ focuses on six key themes, developed in partnership with children:
- supporting stronger families
- providing decent places for children to live
- helping children to have healthy minds
- keeping children active
- providing SEND support for those who need it
- creating safer streets and play areas
The six pledges the Children’s Commissioner wants to see political parties include in their election manifestos are:
1. Extend and expand the Troubled Families Programme, or an equivalent system of family support, to 500,000 households, and develop an outcomes framework built more around children, delivered through an extended network of family support centres in the most deprived areas, building on existing children’s centres and extended school opening hours; helping not only with very young children but as they grow up.
2. A Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) counsellor in every school to reduce stigma and allow support to be accessed more quickly and conveniently.
3. Adequate funding for Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND), including pre-statutory support, to improve early support such as speech and language therapy, reduce exclusions and long waiting lists for assessments for children with suspected autism, and increase the number of suitable school places for children with high needs.
4. Schools open at evenings, weekends and holidays to provide high quality youth support and a range of activities, from sports and arts to digital citizenship. The children’s commissioner says this move would broaden children’s access to education, help parents with childcare and support children’s mental health and social skills, and help tackle serious violence and gangs.
5. Police officers and youth workers in schools to boost security and reduce exclusions, and low fences, more lights and CCTV in parks to help children feel safer.
6. Establish a Cabinet committee for children to tackle complex generational problems.
The manifesto also sets out some of the likely costs involved in implementing the policies, estimating a total in the region of £10billion.
Ms Longfield said, ‘The building blocks of a good childhood haven’t changed – secure relationships, a decent home and inspiring schools. I want politicians to think seriously about whether they are truly prioritising these things for children. I’ve heard more national political conversation about HS2, water nationalisation and tax cuts – and of course Brexit - than I have about children.
‘Children do not have a vote. Unless political parties choose to listen to them, they do not have a voice. I am the eyes and ears of children in the Whitehall system and I see far, far too often the interests of children being subjugated to the interests of others – of business, or of bureaucracies, or of adults who do have votes and whose views are therefore counted.
‘We should be ashamed that there are literally millions of kids in England not having the childhood we in a decent society would want them to have. Yet none of this is inevitable: we get the society we choose. The right help at the right time pays dividends – to the children, to society and the public purse, now and in the future.
‘I want England to be a great place for all children to grow up. This manifesto sets out a vision for a more child, and family- focused society. It demands that all political parties take action in their manifestos to improve the lives of kids.’
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said that schools want to be part of the solution but could not be held responsible ‘for fixing all of society’s ills’.
‘The children’s commissioner has absolutely the right priorities here,’ he said. ‘School leaders are also extremely concerned that children do not have access to the services they need to support them when they need it, be that with additional needs, mental health, or when they or their families find themselves in trouble. But it is striking that the proposed solution to almost every concern the Children’s Commissioner raises is centred on schools.
‘Schools are already on the front-line when dealing with the problems faced by children and their families. They are more often than not the place children and their parents and carers turn to for help. Teachers and school leaders are already struggling to cope with the variety and extent of their pastoral care duties – and all with ever-diminishing budgets, staff, resources and external services to rely on.
‘Trained experts are needed from other health and social care services, and, crucially, all these services, including schools, must be properly funded in order to meet the requirements society has of them.’
Judith Blake, chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, added, ’All councils want children to get the best start and opportunities in life.
‘The Spending Round delivered a £3.5 bn funding package for councils next year which will help them as they strive to support our most vulnerable young people. Funding pressures have forced many to cut or end early intervention services which can prevent problems, for example relating to children’s mental health or involvement in crime, before they escalate. It therefore remains vital that services supporting young people, children and families are fully funded.’