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Guest Post: "Post-COVID, we will need a new government commitment to children"

(52 Posts)
JuliaMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 17-Feb-21 14:42:59

In this guest post outgoing Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield writes about how to reach Britain’s left behind children in post-Covid plans to build back better:

"This month my six-year term as Children’s Commissioner comes to an end. I came into this job knowing that many children in our country miss out. But I also knew that with a little help and understanding even the most vulnerable children can still achieve remarkable things. As Children’s Commissioner, I’ve always said I want to be ambitious for all children – but especially these ones.

During my term I’ve heard people say ‘some children can’t be helped’. It’s untrue. Every child has the right to a good education, to be fed, clothed and kept safe, to have services they can rely on if they need extra help, and ultimately to succeed in life. I believe all these things are possible, but there are huge challenges.

We know there are an estimated 1.3 million children in England with significant mental health conditions but that fewer than a quarter of them receive NHS treatment. We know there are two million children in families affected by severe poverty, domestic abuse, parental mental health issues, parental substance misuse, or where the child is a young carer or a parent is in prison - 800,000 of them not known to social workers or local services.

The terrible thing is, one year into the pandemic we know many of their lives will have got worse.

Even if schools open as planned next month, England’s children will have missed, since the start of the pandemic, 850 million days of in-person schooling. We know the learning gap between better-off and the poorest children has now widened to seven months. Add to that the rise in children struggling with their mental health and the fall in the amount of exercise children have done and it’s clear that the last year has been damaging for many children.

It is time to repay the sacrifices children have made by rethinking how we see children in this country. The Prime Minister’s promises to ‘build back better’ and ‘level up’ sound good but does the Government know the scale of the challenge? Does it recognise how many children are in families that are struggling to support them, or how many are starting school so far behind they’ll never catch up, or how many children with mental health needs or special education needs aren’t getting the help they should be?

Shockingly, nearly one in five children reaches the age of 19 without getting 5 GCSEs, a technical equivalent or an apprenticeship - the basic benchmark for all children to set them on the path to successful adulthood. If a child grows up in poverty, is involved with children’s services and has special educational needs, their chance of passing falls to just 13%. Hundreds of thousands of life chances are being held back every year.

The frustrating thing is we can solve many of these problems. Once Government decides it wants to achieve something, it can focus on the steps necessary to achieve it.

So why isn’t it happening? In America, President Biden is proposing a huge package of tax credits and benefits, aimed squarely at families with children. This is projected to halve child poverty in just a year. Yet in the UK we’re on track to have the highest levels of child poverty since records began and the Universal Credit uplift which has helped so many families get by could soon be scrapped.

It is time for politicians to set clear goals about children’s outcomes, not just the institutions they attend. Instead of talking about increasing the number of children going to a good or outstanding school, I want the government to commit to making children better off. I want them to say within five years we will reduce the number of children starting school with developmental issues by 80% or within five years we will reduce the number of children leaving education without basic qualifications by 60%.

As we come out of this pandemic, stop saying what can’t be done for children and put the full weight of government behind what can be done, with political will.

We should launch a year of opportunity once the virus has been suppressed, enabling every child, from whatever background, not just to learn in the classroom, but also to develop their own interests at weekends and in the holidays.

Finding joy in finding out, with confidence and resilience by forging their own path. I want to see the now-empty school rooms, sports halls, and swimming pools being used at evenings, weekends and holidays to help all children catch up with confidence. They can get a meal, a break from home and more time to play with friends. Libraries open, art galleries and theatres too – free for families. Music workshops, drama, digital clubs to spark interest and grow talent.

Alongside political will, there will need to be significant funding. It would be worth every penny. It would be a national effort to reopen our institutions and country and reboot childhood. To celebrate everything that is good about growing up in this country and begin to make good where things are not - a ‘Covid covenant’ from us to our children that takes children out of boxes marked ‘problem’ and instead sees them as the opportunities they are."

Anne is on Twitter at @AnneLongfield
Find out more in The Children's Commissioner's Building Back Better report.

Anne Longfield will be returning to this thread to answer your questions on the 18th February at 4pm, so if you have questions for her, leave them below.

OP’s posts: |
StealthPolarBear Thu 18-Feb-21 09:23:42

Excellent, I completely agree. Thank you for everything you've done in your six years.
My question is do you think the government will listen?

MarshaBradyo Thu 18-Feb-21 09:53:10

Great post I’ve agreed with your statements when quoted on R4 too re schools

thecatfromjapan Thu 18-Feb-21 10:19:23

Great post.

What can we do to increase pressure to make this happen?

PotPlantLady Thu 18-Feb-21 10:40:49

A year of opportunity sounds so positive - like A New Deal for Children. I feel the benefits would ripple through generations and families. Investing in children seems like one of the most valuable things to do.

Because of the way that our countryside, landscapes, forests are being degraded and destroyed and wildlife and biodiversity is being damaged - can you imagine some kind of programme which combines giving children/teenagers skills and access to nature whilst supporting the protection and preservation of nature? You touch on this in your piece but I'm interested if you could see an explicitly nature-related programme being possible - I think being in touch with nature brings comfort and joy to people all throughout their lives if they access it as children.

noblegiraffe Thu 18-Feb-21 10:49:00

Hi Anne,

You have been Children's Commissioner for 6 years. During (and indeed before) that period the Conservative government have systematically underfunded schools, overseen an exodus of teachers, dismantled support for children with SEN and left services like CAMHS buckling under the weight of referrals.

What barriers were there to you tackling this while in post, and why do you think that the pandemic will change the government's obvious lack of interest in investing properly in schools and children?

BadlydoneHelen Thu 18-Feb-21 11:18:49

A 2019 report from the Sutton Trust/Social Mobility Commission entitled Elitism in Britain highlighted that 39% of cabinet ministers, 57% of the House of Lords and 29% of all MPs were privately educated (41% of Conservative MPs). Our current Prime Minister was educated at Eton College, the Chancellor at Winchester College.

With this is mind, do you think decisions about the future education of the vast majority of the country's children being taken by people who have no experience of the sector and are unlikely to choose such education for their own families is likely to result in good outcomes?

JanFebAnyMonth Thu 18-Feb-21 11:20:07

Thanks for this opportunity. Two questions:

1 Why oh why is CAMHS so poorly funded? Problems reach crisis point, and sometimes beyond, before an initial appointment is attended.

2 Why is there no automatic support for children who've been involved in domestic violence? No real recognition of the harms this causes?

Thank you.

SeraphinaDombegh Thu 18-Feb-21 11:37:06

Great post and commendable aims. Personally I would like to see a total overhaul and uplift in funding to CAMHS as crucial to this - it's woefully underfunded, failing young people with mental health problems, and the quality of service received varies hugely depending on where you live. A massive investment is required to bring it to where it needs to be.

WhenSheWasBad Thu 18-Feb-21 12:52:01

We should launch a year of opportunity once the virus has been suppressed, enabling every child, from whatever background, not just to learn in the classroom, but also to develop their own interests at weekends and in the holidays

This does sound highly laudable. Could you go into any details. Where this sessions would happen? Who would run them? How much it would cost?

I think it would be great for kids and a lot of parents would support it.

sherrystrull Thu 18-Feb-21 12:56:30

What are your proposals in terms of increasing the funding schools receive currently, outside of this initiative?

There is so much schools could do to support this proposal in the school day, with the right funding.

RuleWithAWoodenFoot Thu 18-Feb-21 12:57:35

What were the barriers in providing all these great things you speak of, over the last 6 years? Have those barriers now been removed by covid? If not, what makes you think any of these things can happen?

TheHoneyBadger Thu 18-Feb-21 13:06:58

Yes another here who'd like to know why this is your exit speech of what needs to be done. If this was your list of what you'd achieved in six years it would be wonderful.

How during your 6 years in post have you improved the areas you have listed as needing improvement?

Hidingunderthetable Thu 18-Feb-21 15:26:50

You have announced a wholescale review of childrens social services, social workers have been on their knees for years with no resources or money due to gov cuts. The pandemic hasn’t helped at all..... did you think a review would have been appropriate before this point to support vulnerable children, not just as you are leaving?

chocolateisavegetable Thu 18-Feb-21 15:57:12

What can be done to help the children whose mental health has improved whilst schools have been closed, because school is the biggest cause of their mental health issues?

How can CAMHS be fixed - a service that has been so badly underfunded that they can assess a child who has taken an overdose and decide that it's "not serious enough" to offer help, so that child then takes another overdose?

Do you agree that supporting teachers better - including putting more safety measures in place during the pandemic, reviewing the pressure that they were under before the pandemic - would actually have a beneficial impact on children? Don't children deserve to be taught by teachers who feel safe and who are able to cope with the workload?

AnneLongfield Thu 18-Feb-21 16:02:28

Hello - thanks for your questions today - I'm looking forward to talking with you

AnneLongfield Thu 18-Feb-21 16:04:18

StealthPolarBear

Excellent, I completely agree. Thank you for everything you've done in your six years.
My question is do you think the government will listen?

Hi - I think the last year has shown just how difficult life is for some children and families - so I hope so and do feel that there is the potential for change - but I have no guarantees!

AnneLongfield Thu 18-Feb-21 16:08:30

JanFebAnyMonth

Thanks for this opportunity. Two questions:

1 Why oh why is CAMHS so poorly funded? Problems reach crisis point, and sometimes beyond, before an initial appointment is attended.

2 Why is there no automatic support for children who've been involved in domestic violence? No real recognition of the harms this causes?

Thank you.

Hi there - these are two very important issues that I have been raising over recent years. CAMHS has historically been underfunded so it was a very low starting point. It makes no sense to wait for crisis and children suffer as a result. There is a programme which is setting up mental health teams in schools but it will only get to 25% in 2 years time - I want to see them in all schools in that time. CCGs still spend 14 times more on adult MH than children - that has to change. I agree completely on domestic violence and we are arguing strongly for a right for support for children.

AnneLongfield Thu 18-Feb-21 16:12:18

SeraphinaDombegh

Great post and commendable aims. Personally I would like to see a total overhaul and uplift in funding to CAMHS as crucial to this - it's woefully underfunded, failing young people with mental health problems, and the quality of service received varies hugely depending on where you live. A massive investment is required to bring it to where it needs to be.

I agree - children get less than 10% of the MH budget despite being 20% of our population. I would like a major investment in MH as part of children's pandemic recovery programme - it would cost about a billion pounds but would be worth every penny to provide NHS funded counsellors in every school - there and able to help children before it reaches crisis point.

AnneLongfield Thu 18-Feb-21 16:16:57

Hidingunderthetable

You have announced a wholescale review of childrens social services, social workers have been on their knees for years with no resources or money due to gov cuts. The pandemic hasn’t helped at all..... did you think a review would have been appropriate before this point to support vulnerable children, not just as you are leaving?

The Government has announced an Independent Review of Children's Social Care which I have been calling for for some time. I want it to be wide ranging and bold in its thinking - and come up with proposals that improve children's experience of being in care and means more children get support with problems earlier. Social workers do an incredible job but this system hasn't kept up with changing needs and is very stretched. The Review will report in about a year's time.

TheHoneyBadger Thu 18-Feb-21 16:18:15

That sounds dodgily like robbing peter to pay paul. There's not enough money in ANY mental health services and adult mental health services likely benefit children too as parents being treated benefits children.

A greater share of a miniscule pie is not a win. I'm sure you know this but I can imagine a spin muppet saying hmm yeah just give kids a greater percentage of the total mental health spend rather than increase actual funding. Children become adults - they'll want funding when they pass 18 too.

WhenSheWasBad Thu 18-Feb-21 16:20:10

I agree - children get less than 10% of the MH budget despite being 20% of our population. I would like a major investment in MH as part of children's pandemic recovery programme

Surely a lot of the reason so many kids need support with their mental health, is that life is incredibly hard for them.
Should we maybe put efforts into reducing how stressful life is? Target driven culture, and insecure work places? There is a reason mental health is so poor, it’s worse now but it’s been bad for years.
Yes we should provide better treatments, but what about tackling the cause?

thecatfromjapan Thu 18-Feb-21 16:21:25

Anne, I know I'm repeating myself here, but I think this is crucial.

We have a government who run away from responsibility. They hide behind an idea that government bears no responsibility and takes no responsibility for its citizens. They shirk responsibility - off-load it to 'the market'. They impose 'austerity' rather than investing in the future and try to magically reinvent such catastrophic short-sightedness and laziness as a virtue.

How, exactly, do you get a government, high on an ideology like that, to 'Build Back Better' and stop suffocating our children's lives through terrible under-funding of education, mental health services, and all the rest?

How can we even have a conversation with them? How can we pressure them to do better?

Lifeaintalwaysempty Thu 18-Feb-21 16:21:48

I read a great idea put forward, that there should be a voucher scheme this summer for children to spend on all sorts of extra curricular activities, which could support children in terms of mental health, potentially academically, and would help the creative sector and childcare sectors too. Is this something that is being considered at all?

thecatfromjapan Thu 18-Feb-21 16:25:37

I mean, a 'wide-ranging review' is all well and good - but how do we get this government to change their ideology and invest the sums of money needed?

I mean, a 'wide-ranging review' is much the same as sending children out to play, so that they stop mothering you in the house.

How can we turn that review into action, rather than an exercise in ignoring serious issues?

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