After the Election: Will Vulnerable Children and Young People Get Priority? A Bigger Role for the Church?Thursday, April 1st, 2010
This Press Release was received from the Christian Child Care Forum.
At their Ninth Annual Forum, held at King’s Cross Baptist Church on 24 March 2010 members of Christian Child Care Forum discussed the responses of political parties to a list of questions they had prepared. Baroness Howarth of Breckland addressed the Forum on current political issues concerning children and families. The responses received from three political parties are summarised and given in full below.
Plaid Cymru want a campaign against child poverty. The LibDems want to ensure that disadvantaged children do not suffer in the recession. The Scottish National Party want to preserve front-line services. We know cuts are coming soon, however, and it will be hard for some time to come, but services for children and young people will need priority if long-term problems are to be avoided.
When life was tough for children back in the nineteenth century, it was the churches which started up most of the charities which protected, cared for and educated them. If government-funded services are cut, the churches may need to take a higher profile again to ensure that children’s needs are still met.
In many parts of the country churches provide wide ranges of services from toddler groups to work with young people. Many serve multi-cultural multi-faith communities, but local authorities still at times discriminate against them because of their Christian basis. It is time for them to recognise the real contribution made by the churches and the commitment of the workers in providing good caring services for children. It is the view of CCCF that the belief basis of an organisation should not be indiscriminately held against it.
The CCCF is a grouping of organisations and individuals committed to promoting a vision of contemporary society in which children and young people have a rightful place, and responding in love, from common Christian perspectives, to the needs of children and families. By providing a means of sharing experience and insights, and of increasing understanding and co-operation on matters of policy and practice the Forum seeks to sustain and develop the contribution of Christian resources to the well-being of children and young people.
The main ways in which CCCF has gone about its mission over the past thirty years have been by networking (more recently by means of its website and links with others), by convening conferences and forums, and by meeting with representatives of government to convey the views and wishes of its members.
For further information about CCCF or this Press Release, contact :
Dr Keith J. White : 0208 504 2702
Questions for Parliamentary Parties : Summary and Comment
In preparation for the CCCF 2010 Annual Seminar, ten standard questions on key issues concerning children and young people were sent to the Conservatives, Labour, the LibDems, Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party. The full responses are attached separately below. This note contains the main points made and some observations from a CCCF viewpoint based on the returns received to date.
Points of Concern
The SNP’s response makes clear the control which Scotland has over its services for children and young people. Plaid Cymru would like Wales too to have control of its services devolved. However, Plaid Cymru and the SNP share a common concern that their countries should not lose resources because of the priorities of what the SNP terms “the London parties”. Indeed, both state that their services are underfunded, and they both propose ways of making savings which they would find acceptable in order to preserve their services.
For the LibDems, the main points are :
- the need to bridge the gap for disadvantaged children and young people;
- the aim to support families on low incomes by starting Income Tax at £10k;
- the wish to pass control of the services to the professions and remove Labour’s centralised bureaucratic approach, so that
- personalised approaches can be taken to individuals’ needs.
Points for Action
The Plaid Cymru response focuses on few broad policies, such as ending child poverty, but lists a wide range of specific proposals, such as free school meals, the creation of a Welsh Baccalaureate, the establishment of National Citizenship Service for school-leavers, the abolition of university tuition fees, parental leave reform, greater emphases on restorative justice and victim support in youth justice, better drug rehabilitation services and an increase in the price of alcohol.
The LibDems major on a few key proposals, based on their main principles listed above. Pupil Premiums, for example, are proposed as a way of targeting funding for the education of children facing greater problems, and thus as a way of overcoming poverty and inequality. Community justice Panels are offered as a way of diverting young people from the criminal justice system.
The SNP want good quality services, but include fewer specific proposals in their response partly because their manifesto for the elections in May 2010 is under preparation still, but partly because their policies are already being implemented, for example in the Early Years Framework concerning the devolution of play services, and in the diversionary programmes of Young People who Offend.
Responses Concerning Christian Input
The LibDem response is the only one to recognise the historical input of Christianity in child care and the education of children and young people. Quite properly, the LibDems, Plaid Cymru and SNP all take an even-handed approach to the future.
In responding about ways of supporting families, none of the parties comment upon the importance of marriage in providing a secure setting in which children can develop.
Thanks are due to the three parties which have responded to date for addressing each of our questions helpfully.
The LibDem response reads as if from Nick Clegg himself; if he did indeed take the time to deal with the questionnaire himself, then his interest is much appreciated and indicates that issues concerning children are understood at leadership level.
CCCF Questions for Parliamentary Parties
What is your party’s current thinking about the options which should be open to young children, such as home-based child care, nursery provision and the commencement of schooling?
High quality childcare can make a huge difference to a child’s development, and it is enormously important in bridging the gap between disadvantaged children and their better off peers. We know, for example, that poorer children start school with language skills trailing, on average, nearly a year behind those children from middle income homes. However, finding flexible, affordable and quality childcare can be a struggle. The Government’s bureaucratic approach to the early years has driven away many childminders, making the situation even worse. I believe that parents should have as much choice as possible - not least as a father of three young boys myself. Different families and children simply do not have identical needs, and we should embrace that variation rather than try to stifle it. My party’s aspiration is to introduce universal childcare as the economy improves. In the meantime, we are committed to supporting and improving the existing arrangements, and - crucially - making sure those children who are currently missing out are included so they don’t fall behind before they have even started school.
We call for a study into the feasibility of providing every infant school child in Wales with free school meals. We want to develop and enhance the Welsh Baccalaureate, and we will continue to oppose Foundation Schools on principle. Plaid calls for a review of the National Curriculum for Wales to consider the subjects and methods which they are taught. We support the introduction of a compulsory modern language GCSE in secondary schools. We will campaign for a National Citizenship Service for Wales, a voluntary scheme in which young people may complete a year of volunteering before leaving school. We believe that this will help young people develop a sense of public duty. We will not support any further increases in university tuition fees, and will seek the abolition of tuition fees as and when public finances allow.
Good quality early education and childcare services are vital in helping children to develop and grow, and in supporting their families in moving into or sustaining employment, training or education.
There has been considerable recent investment in children’s play. What approach should be taken to children’s play during the next Parliament?
Learning through play can be really effective. I am concerned about the extent to which the Government’s target-driven, tick-box approach to early years provision may squeeze out this side of learning. I want to see a slimmed down framework which guarantees high standards in the care children receive, but at the same time gives providers the freedom to teach children in ways that are fun and effective, recognizing that individual children respond differently to different methods.
As education is largely a devolved issue, Wales has been able to forge its own path in determining its priorities. Giving our children a strong start in life is vital, not only for their future, but for the future of Wales. We are committed to an early years curriculum - the Foundation Phase - which emphasizes learning through play.
The SNP Scottish Government recognises the importance of play for all children including those with additional support needs. That’s why our Early Years Framework - launched jointly with Cosla in December 2009 - places an emphasis on supporting play to help a child’s development and improve their quality of life. Play is central to how children learn, both in terms of cognitive skills and relating to others. Outdoor play in particular can also be a major contributor to improved health. Play is a devolved matter and any proposals relating to children’s play will be set out in our forthcoming manifesto for the Scottish Parliamentary elections in May 2011.
What measures does your party plan to take in order to strengthen families’ ability to bring up children?
The economic crisis has put a lot of pressure on families and we want to help ease that burden. That’s why one of our key priorities is to make the tax system fairer and cut taxes for people on low and middle incomes - under our plans, there would be no income tax on the first £10,000 you earn. We would pay for it by closing the loopholes currently enjoyed by big business and the very wealthy. 3.6 million pensioners and people on low incomes would pay no tax at all, and nearly everyone else would get £700 back each year - money that would be a great help for many families. I also feel strongly that we need to transform our outdated, rigid arrangements for parental leave. Mothers and fathers should be able to share leave much more evenly, so that new parents can organize their time-off in a way that suits them best. Fathers would then be able to take a much more hands on role with their young children; it’s good for them, good for mothers, and good for their children too. On top of those changes, we have identified £2.5bn of extra investment to fund a Pupil Premium, targeting money at schools taking pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. Head teachers would be able to use that money to cut class sizes and provide more one-to-one tuition and catch up classes so that those children who are struggling don’t fall further behind. The whole class would benefit, and parents could send their children off to school knowing they would receive the attention needed to flourish.
Plaid Cymru calls for reform of the parental leave system; with greater flexibility and total gender neutrality, and for universal, affordable, and high-quality childcare for every family. We support choice in childbirth and have actively campaigned to promote breast feeding as well as support to help mothers breast feed. Plaid Cymru will continue to campaign to end child poverty in Wales by 2020 and will press for a move away from complex and expensive means testing for child-related benefits.
The Scottish Government aims to give every child and young person the best possible start in life. It works to provide support for children, families and carers - especially those in difficult circumstances - and will act to ensure that our most vulnerable children have the protection they deserve. Supporting communities is a devolved matter and any proposals relating to family support will be set out in our forthcoming manifesto for the Scottish Parliamentary elections in May 2011.
Social Pedagogy and Restorative Practice
These two approaches to child care have been introduced in the UK during recent years. Does your party have any policy concerning their adoption or development?
For years education and childcare have suffered from increasing central government control. As a liberal, I believe that the government should set out minimum entitlements and standards, but it is for the professionals to take an approach which is in the best interests of individual children in their care and has the support of their parents. We need an end to the ‘government knows best’ approach, giving professionals the freedom to teach and care for children in ways that work best for them.
We do not appear to have any policy on either social pedagogy or restorative practice in childcare.
Christian Organisations and Initiatives
What is your attitude to the role of Christian organisations that provide care, education, mentoring for children, young people and families?
The role that organizations from all faith groups play when it comes to providing child care and education is hugely important and should never be overlooked. Christian organizations have historically been committed to providing educational opportunities to children from all backgrounds and we would very much support them as they continue that invaluable work.
We do not take a position on Christian organizations which provide care to children, young people and families, as long as they are providing excellent quality, fair and indiscriminate care to those involved.
The SNP Scottish Government works with a range of bodies across the public, private and voluntary sectors in taking forward the delivery of these services.
What balance are you seeking between appropriate protection of children, and the place of risk-taking, spontaneous expression, trust, community cohesion, informal family networks, and volunteering?
While the protection of our children must obviously be a priority, the Government’s overly bureaucratic, one size fits all approach threatens to rob children of the rich experience that comes from engaging with a variety of people and influences. It is not always an easy balance, but it is possible to protect children while exposing them to the world. I am very keen that the Liberal Democrats work with volunteers and charity groups to explore the best ways of doing that, and to make sure those groups aren’t put-off working with children and making a positive difference in their lives.
Although the number of young offenders is falling, there are still many young people (still technically children in legal terms) in secure accommodation or Young Offender Institutions. What is your party’s view of this situation, and what changes, if any, would you make in response to the present situation and current trends?
It is a scandal that the Government currently spends eleven times more on locking up young people than it does on backing projects to stop them getting involved in crime in the first place. Dragging young people through the criminal justice system for minor offences is the best way of helping them to graduate to a more serious life of crime. I am keen that we expand innovative approaches to youth justice to tackle minor offences. Community justice panels, for example, allow children and young people to learn from their mistakes by making amends directly with their victims and their communities. Pilots have shown extremely promising results in terms of reduced re-offending rates, and these schemes can be much more effective in cutting crime and helping children and young people than simply locking them into a criminal justice system that runs them into hardened criminals.
Plaid Cymru calls for devolution of our crime and justice system in its entirety, including the police force and youth justice, so that Wales can fully tackle the complex problems of individual and community safety and rehabilitation. We believe in providing greater support for victims and witnesses to help people feel safer in their communities. We are committed to restorative justice and community sentencing where appropriate. We call for a national community safety strategy for Wales, more drug rehabilitation places and programmes, drug and alcohol education in every school in Wales and better amenities for young people in their communities. We call for a minimum price per unit alcohol initially set at 50p, along with stricter controls on alcohol advertising and marketing.
The SNP Scottish Government and their partners are looking to reduce reoffending by young people (under 18) through the Young People Who Offend project, particularly those aged 16 and 17, a group that has often been forgotten about in the past. This project will review the current systems, processes and practices in place for dealing with the offending behaviour of young people under the age of 18 who are dealt with in the courts or are presenting a risk of serious harm to themselves or their communities. By working with all stakeholders and delivery partners including Community Justice Authorities and Community Planning Partnerships we aim to reduce the flow of young people entering into the adult criminal justice system
To what extent would your party protect budgets which affect children? Are there specific budgets which you would cut or protect?
Following the economic crisis, the public finances are still under a massive strain. Politicians must now be absolutely clear on their plans to reduce the deficit while investing any money that is available in our priorities where that is the right thing to do. My party is making only two substantial and immediate commitments for additional spending in our manifesto. One of these is the additional £2.5bn being spent on children through the introduction of a Pupil Premium, which I describe above, targeting extra money at schools taking pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. We are the only party making this level of additional investment in our schools and all children will benefit from the extra attention that teachers will be able to provide. We are also very concerned about high levels of unemployment amongst young people. Our second major proposal for new investment is a programme in green infrastructure to boost the economy and create jobs.
Plaid Cymru strongly condemns the unfair funding settlement Wales currently receives. The recent Holtham Commission report recognized that Wales’s public services are still losing out by at least £300 million a year, a gross level of under-funding which could reach £8.5bn over the next decade. Based on these figures, the Assembly’s budget faces a reduction of around £2.8bn. It’s therefore vital that this unfair funding formula, which governs how much money is spent on Welsh schools and hospitals, be reformed. Plaid would not hesitate to protect the front-line health and education services, on which the most vulnerable, our children and our older people rely, with this extra money which rightfully belongs to Wales. Two of our key policies for the 2010 include raising the basic state pension for over-80s by 30% and lifting a million families out of poverty with an increase in the personal tax allowance of £1000. These measures would be paid for by eliminating the tax free allowance on capital gains tax and increasing the rate of CGT to the marginal rate of income tax being paid; limiting income tax relief on pension contributions to the standard rate; and raising the rate of income tax to 50% on taxable earnings in excess of £100,000. These three measures could bring in more than £9.4bn a year.
The London Parties plan swingeing cuts to Scotland’s budget - not only would this risk a double dip recession, it will also have a knock on impact on health and education budgets. Only the SNP are fighting against these cuts. Instead of slashing frontline services, the SNP would scrap the wasteful and obscene Trident project - saving £100bn.