The Government policy Every Child Matters is now so well-known that it has been shortened to ECM and become part of the furniture. But whoever thought up this title deserved a bonus. It’s as short as a soundbite, but – more importantly – it’s true, and it’s at the heart of parenting, schooling, paediatrics and child care.
Every Child Matters should be a mantra, to be repeated by the teacher at every lesson in school, by doctors at every consultation about children’s health in hospital and by social workers in every child protection case conference, so that its truth sinks in. Every child under consideration is different – in his/her potential, problems, family, hopes, fears, wishes, interests, friends, abilities, and on and on.
We must never think that the child in front of us is defined by his/her labels, which is one of the reasons why the tick-box culture is so wrong. The bureaucrat may think that the more boxes that are ticked, the more precise is the picture of the child, as if his/her character can be pixillated. But it is the subtleties and nuances that make the individual, and tick boxes take away the opportunity to reflect those subtleties and nuances in reports.
In the world of the rich and powerful children may be treated sometimes as weak, powerless and insignificant. This, of course, ignores that they will in turn become adults, bear responsibility, and perhaps be the ones on whom reliance has to be placed as the earlier generation gets older. But it also ignores the impact that children have as children on those around them.
This issue of the Webmag addresses disability. Keith White has shown what special qualities children with disabilities have and the genuine contribution they make to their families and communities. Elaine speaks of the impact Aleesha has had on her family, making light of the demands made by a disabled child and of the commitment this demands of parents – and of brothers and sisters. And in News Views we have noted the way that David Cameron reacted to the death of his disabled son, Ivan. Yet, for all the demands they place on their families, disabled children make an individual and positive impact, becoming characters in their own right, attracting love and devotion, and offering a sense of achievement when they master a new skill.
Yes, every child does matter, which is why the work of the past to improve services, such as the introduction of normalization, is so important. There were times in the past when children did not matter; there are places now where children do not matter; and there are individuals like Baby P who are overlooked and do not matter enough. Because we are human, standards may always slip backwards. We may become less sensitive. We may divert resources elsewhere. We may not want to acknowledge the problems in front of us. Making sure that Every Child Matters is not a once-and-for-all battle, but one which needs to be fought continuously.
When this Government’s achievements are listed by the historians, we hope that their emphasis on meeting children’s needs will stand out, and that people will still be acknowledging, years from now, that Every Child Matters.