“Listen, Listen, Listen!” A phrase which rang through my head during the Children’s Commissioner’s first year launch of Ambitious for Children on 12 July 2016. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a note to self. Quite the contrary, it was one of the most important messages I took away that day.
The event started with Michael Buchanan, BBC’s social affairs correspondent, who did a marvellous job of chairing the panel. Unsurprisingly, his opening remarks were on the government’s current state of affairs and despite its fluctuating and inconsistent nature – for children, “life goes on.” Buchanan stressed the importance of working consistently to overcome the challenge of merging policy with personal (care, compassion, understanding and empathy) to improve the lives of young people.
Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield then took to the stage to mark the beginning of the first year of Ambitious for Children. Twelve months ago, priorities were set for the next five years, and Longfield explained how this will feed into programmes and activities for the year ahead. It seemed clear that Longfield listened, kept an open door policy and relied on feedback from children and young people.
A main priority for the Children’s Commissioner was to improve outcomes for children in care and particularly those not on any policy radar. She is working to provide stability to children (a leading theme), minimising the number of and disruption caused by placement moves, and improving therapeutic care. She wanted to instil stability in all relationships by improving communication with their social workers, which forms the basis of a collaborative project with children and young people.
Listening to children and young people was highlighted by Alex Burghart, the Children’s Commissioner’s Director of Strategy – after all children are, “experts on their lives and the system.” He introduced the Stability Index, to be launched later in the year, as a tool to help overcome instability in children and young people in care, aiming to “look at the lives behind the statistics.” With the unique power to access data from any public source surrounding children, including central and local government, it will enable the Commissioner’s office to understand the situation as well as help local authorities learn from each other to refine their systems.
Dame Louise Casey provided the reality check. She called the treatment and targeting of children, “a cause for national shame.” Difficult to argue with given some of the data presented on the day. She highlighted last year’s unemployment rate for young black people aged 16-24 at 27.5% – higher than any other ethnic background, and urged authorities to, “face the facts and tell it like it is.” She made the point that whilst we are divided on the country’s fate, the “country is not divided on the future of our children,” and we need to work together to improve lives.
The NHS lead on the Barnahus model of child protection, Hong Tan, discussed the priorities for children in the coming year. Barnahus in Reykjavik was given as a model example of a safe house for children. Looking at the difference in populations (Reykjavik’s over 120,000 versus London’s over 8.6 million), he shared the shocking fact that the Barnahus and The Children and Young People Haven in King’s College Hospital London housed a similar number of children. Tan explained that the locals’ knowledge of the Barnahus created a level of, “social responsibility within the community,” which we must work towards for London.
Then the moment we listened just that bit harder. Young people from Oldham and Ealing stole the show, and rightly so.
We were presented with a Passport to Independent Living by the young people from Oldham District Youth Forum. A project aimed at preparing young care leavers for independent living. It details services available to them and helps with issues from healthcare to opening a bank account. Young people from Ealing’s Junior Council worked on a project for children in care, including activities which provided information and gifts, and giving children a wall board to communicate their needs and wants.
It struck me how proud both groups were to have a voice and an audience that listened. Young people are trying to make a difference to their future and they need to believe adults care enough to listen and do something about it.
“Listen!” It’s something that was drummed into our heads as children and something we continue to drum into our children’s heads. So when do we stop listening? And why? Well, that’s a discussion for another time. For now, let’s take it on board and accept it as the first step to solving the problem.
I left the event hopeful that the Children’s Commissioner listens to children and young people, is on the road to better understanding their plight, and is applying that knowledge to improving their life chances.
Ambition’s Head of Communications
Please read Ambitious for Children for a list of programmes launched for 2016/2017, including the Stability Index, a Children’s Pledge, Help at Hand, Support for Children in Care Councils and Our Childhood.