The first in a series of essays taking an in-depth look at the Green Paper: Every Child Matters: Change for Children 2003
Outcomes for Children and Young People
This document is, I believe, the second most potentially influential piece of legislation in the last twenty years. The first significant document was the Children Act 1989*. For the first time with any real clarity, this country has acknowledged the individuality of a child based on their gender, culture, colour of skin, race, religion, sexuality, ability and family. The child’s welfare has been acknowledged as being of ‘paramount’ importance.
Many aspects of children’s care and welfare have been affected since 1991 but there were clearly a number of serious gaps in provision and quality of supporting and protecting children. That Act expected and recommended that the Caring Services – Social Services, Health and Education – work in partnership for the best outcome for children. Local authorities have worked towards this with varying success.
The Every Child Matters document was produced after a lengthy national consultation process with children, young people and their families. What emerged from this was an acknowledgement that the best way to support any child or young person to achieve their potential is to give them a strong foundation. The consultation identified five basic Outcomes for Life that are a common feature for the majority of children and young people.
There is nothing startling or mind blowing about what these younger members of our Society wanted. (See diagram above.) What they wanted was:
- to feel safe and secure;
- to be healthy;
- to enjoy and achieve;
- to make a contribution;
- to achieve economic well-being.
Problems of the Past
The document comes in the wake of a number of horrendous errors made during previous years.
- The education of children, especially in the core skills, such as numeracy and literacy has reached an all-time low.
- More children than ever are refusing to attend school, and this despite stringent measures taken to punish parents on their absentee children’s behalf.
- The behaviour of some children and young people in the community has become notorious with vandalism and criminal damage to property a common feature in newspapers.
- There appears to be a different breed of ‘feral’ children who have no regard for social boundaries and no respect for authority.
- Acquisitiveness within the younger generations and theft of personal technology again is usual rather than abnormal.
- Violence and infliction of pain or death on peers or those deemed vulnerable is on the increase.
- The recording of these acts is carried out via mobile phones and within seconds, the images are flashed around the world.
- Gun crime is on the increase with innocent by-standers paying the ultimate price.
- Racism and bullying has become rife.
- Children who should have been protected by professionals making full use of the policies and procedures that govern their work have died, the most infamous case being that of Victoria Climbie where twelve opportunities to save and protect this child were missed.
- Family units appear to lack real bonding and cohesiveness and schools and parents seem to be working and living in different worlds.
- Children and young people are not realising their potential. If this carries on, there will be a dramatic deficit of skills, knowledge and motivation for this country to remain among the top 10% in the world.
Answering the Problems
Every Child Matters was devised with these negative features ever present in the minds of those who developed the consultation processes and wrote the document. In his introduction to the Paper, Tony Blair states very clearly that many mistakes have been made. He goes on to say that the only way to make up for those mistakes is to work together in partnership, to listen to what children and young people are saying and what they really need.
Parents need to be given the tools and skills to become the leaders and role models in their families, and setting and organisations with children and young people as their focus should work together towards the common goal of supporting the next generation to attain the Outcomes they have categorically stated they want.
Instead of clinging to traditional methods of education and support and guidance, now is the time to step away from the usual methods and try something challenging and new.
Children are still not born ‘bad’. Most want and in fact desire a normal, steady lifestyle. There are different pressures now compared with previous generations.
- There is easier access to alcohol and drugs. In fact alcohol is made more palatable than before by means of alco-pops etc.
- Much has been made of celebrity status, gained with no real evidence of the so-called celebrities working hard and achieving anything significant.
- Bad behaviour is perceived as the thing that you do to get noticed or intimidate others.
- Money is easy to get but much harder to hold onto.
- Because people re-locate more frequently, the extended family unit has suffered. At one time the community guarded and raised the children. Now it is often lone parents with no visible means of support and encouragement and no previous generation of role models. It is an acquired skill not an innate behaviour.
- Trying to keep one’s child alive and safe is instinctive, but without any indication of how to offer quality to their life, depression and misery rapidly become a factor. There has been a dramatic increase in the number of attempted and successful suicides in the 15 to 19 years age range. There is also a marked increase in the number and types of depressive illnesses and other mental health problems.
It is incredibly difficult to be a child or young person with so many external pressures and challenges. Anyone who survives must be guided and nurtured.
Next month I will look specifically at one of the Outcomes and explore some of the aspects of modern life through this focus.