Change the Narrative for Policy and Young People
In early March John Lyon’s Charity hosted a roundtable discussion titled ‘The UK’s Children: Is it Time for a New Deal?’. Participants included heads of charities, policymakers, journalists and think tanks amongst others. As the largest independent funder for children and young people in North and West London, John Lyon’s Charity has become increasingly concerned over the past five to eight years, that what used to be considered core for state provision seems to have shrunk. Consequently, the Charity has seen increasing demands for its grants, as it knows others also have.
Aside from Brexit, a glance at the headlines on any news site or newspaper shows that the lives of children and young people in Britain are under considerable stress. The social and psychological pressures on the UK’s children cause the whole nation concern; from the impact of knife crime to the pressures of social media; from the anguish of increasing numbers of those excluded at school to the burden to perform at school or you are considered a failure. For those children and young people who need help along the way, that assistance is not always there. At a time when government resource continues to be stretched, demand for children and youth services has risen dramatically.
Austerity has not helped. By 2020, local government in England will have lost 75 pence out of every £1 of the Government revenue support grant that it had to spend in 2015. Overall, councils are facing a £3.1 billion funding gap for Children and Young People’s (CYP) services by 2025. The impact has seen the loss of 4,500 jobs, more than 760 youth centres and 130,000 youth club places for young people. We know that in many areas universal youth work has all but disappeared, with funding being diverted to short-term and targeted provision. Increasingly high thresholds for support are also leaving young people behind. The result of this is that we have reached the position where grant-making by independent foundations for children now exceeds that of grants made by government. This is unlikely to change. The social contract we had all assumed was in place is changing.
Before the discussion commenced, the CEO of John Lyon’s Charity (Dr Lynne Guyton) made it clear that we needed to have balance“…it is worth remembering that there are over nine-and-a-half million children and young people in the UK aged between 10-24 and, despite what the media would have us think, they are not all gun-toting, knife-wielding criminals. So, for us, we do not see children as a problem, or even the problem, and we feel that young people’s views should matter more and more.
“As a charity with a very defined Beneficial Area, we will continue to challenge government around cuts, and we will try to resolve these issues, but we know we can’t achieve this alone and that is why I wanted an open discussion in terms of how we can work together to set a new agenda for the future.”
So, what is to be done? Is it time to reconsider how we regard the young? Which interventions work and which are less successful? Why have there been seven ministers for young people since 2010? And, is it time for a dedicated, full-time minister for young people? Many themes came out of the discussion that followed, including the perception of children, the lack of government representation for the CYP sector and children’s and young people’s voices remaining unheard and unsought.
The first guest speaker was Sir Al Aynsley-Green who was the first independent statutory children’s commissioner for England.
“We’re the fifth richest country in the world. We have amazing children, families and staff, but the hard reality is that we have some of the worst outcomes in the developed world for children’s health, education, social care, youth justice and poverty”.
Sir Al asked two stark questions about the sector:
- Why should we care about children?
- Why do we have such dismal outcomes?
On the first question of why we should care, Sir Al offered that “we have more and more older people living for much longer than previously, so it means there will be fewer working-age adults to support their needs, and the statistics are startling. So, there is an economic argument for why children should be taken seriously.”
On the second question of why we have such poor outcomes in the UK, Sir Al suggested there were four underlying reasons: “The first is our public and political attitude to the importance of children. The second is that national government focus for children has been short-term, inconsistent, ephemeral and untrustworthy. ‘Every Child Matters’ was the world’s most powerful and respected overall policy for children, under New Labour. However, it was systematically unpicked by the coalition government of 2010. The third reason is that we have failed to be effective political advocates for the best interests of children. Finally, it is the bunkers and silos that are everywhere; exemplified best by Westminster, but right the way down to localities within and between sectors. We can do better, and we have got to find the examples, share the tool-kits, and bring the willing together to work together to improve the outcomes for our children.”
The second provocation came from Ravi Chandiramani, editor in chief of Children and Young People now. He began with three points. “First: the treatment of youth policy in England over the past decade is a national scandal. We not only have had seven ministers for young people since 2010, but the brief itself has been cast adrift from the rest of children’s services and shunted around Whitehall. We need a dedicated minister to set the policy framework for improving outcomes for all young people outside the arena of formal education. National treatment of youth issues continues to see adolescence as a problem. It is reactive, negative and highly politicised around high-profile issues such as child sexual exploitation, harmful social media content or knife crime.
“Second, children and young people need ‘continuity of care’. The churn in ministers for young people is mirrored elsewhere in hugely important roles. The turnover rate of local authority directors of children’s services – those with ultimate oversight of children’s and youth services within their council boundaries – is 40% a year. Moreover, 20% of children’s social workers are interim agency staff. So, there is a fundamental problem in the continuity of care at all levels afforded to vulnerable young people and families.
“Third, we need to stop (focussing on) innovation and intervention programmes. Innovation is a good thing. But the increased weight of emphasis on discrete programmes of intervention risks losing sight of the importance of everyday good social work or everyday good youth work in building relationships – where professionals gain the trust and respect of young people who may otherwise lack such a figure in their lives.”
A discussion then ensued on attitudes towards children and young people. Kathy Evans the CEO of Children England said that while members of the organisations she represents do “some extraordinary work” she was dismayed at some prevalent attitudes towards children and the young. “I think in recent times there have been two phenomena that underscore societal problems we have in our attitude to children. The first is the growing phenomenon of schools having isolation and confinement booths for punishment of often very minor things like uniform breaches. Zero tolerance of misbehaviour is zero tolerance of childhood, and they are…sending those children away in silent, motionless confinement, rather than deal with the reality that children behave in all sorts of ways.
“The second phenomenon is the welfare and benefits system that has decided to implement a two-child limit. As a society, we have really to grasp what we are saying about the value of any child, however they came to be here. Fundamentally we must change our idea of who children are, because children are just new people. If we can’t connect with childhood, then we have disowned our true selves.” This was a powerful sentiment and one that echoed around the room.
At this point it was becoming clear that themes were emerging of children and young people being marginalised. There was a general feeling that unlike, for example, in the Netherlands, Scandinavia or Canada, children are frequently under-valued or supported. Consequently, the contribution of those that work with children – whether as childcare providers, teachers or social workers is not appreciated. This problem magnifies further when we consider children and young people with special needs.
The youngest person in the room was Hamza Taouzzale, aged 19, who is the youngest councillor ever to sit on Westminster City Council (when elected he was too young to vote himself). Hamza’s views were stark and to the point: “We don’t have a cabinet member for young people. We don’t have anyone who…wants the burden, because that’s how they see it – as a burden. If they have young people on their portfolio and they’re responsible for it, then anything that goes wrong they think is going to be tied to them…and then they will get blamed for it.”
Hamza continued “… for some young people, it (the loss of funding) is (the end of the world). Two days in a row now, next to the ward in which I live and which I represent, three young people have been stabbed. What we’ve realised is that we’ve gone into a dangerous system where young people’s lives don’t really count anymore.
Hamza put forward two actions points for consideration: “I think the voting age needs to be lowered. I think the main reason why politicians don’t care about young people is that we can’t vote. We can’t turn around and say to them ‘We don’t want you in (power) anymore.’ We don’t have a say. The second thing I would say is that we’ve strayed away from looking at young people as normal people. We look at young people as ‘these criminals’ or ‘these knife-wielding menaces,’ as these angry people who don’t want to go to school, who don’t want to go to university, who don’t want to do anything in life, they just want to go out there and stab someone. That’s not true.”
There was much support for Hamza’s comments and a sense that the media focusses on the negative stories only. There was discussion about the role the media plays in providing sensationalist news headlines. However, it was also conceded that charities should be aware of only releasing negative, headline-grabbing case-studies and stories in a desperate search for coverage. They also had a responsibility to share the good news stories and successes as well.
The discussion moved on to the mental health of the young where it was felt that in some regards there was a real mixed picture. The current generation of young people are the most peaceful and the least aggressive for decades; they drink, and smoke less than their parents and grandparents and yet public perception is clearly different. However, pressures on children and young people, appear to be far higher than previous generations. The issue about thresholds for mental health intervention being very high, was raised by numerous panel members. Things had to have got very bad for a child or young person before professional help was made available. Quite simply, thresholds are now high because funding for services has been cut. This is affecting an increasing number of children and young people, and particularly those with Special Educational Needs (SEND). It was recognised by many participants that there was a direct link between a cut in funding for schools, a lack of funding for Child & Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and the increase in pupils excluded from schools.
Many participants also had deep concerns about the issue of the social contract – the progressive withdrawal of both central and local government money from children and youth services. The boundaries of statutory provisions are being redefined. In John Lyon’s Charity there is a recognition that while it may disagree with funding cuts, it must work with what is in front of them and be flexible, by funding activities such as youth clubs or children’s services. There is acknowledgment in the Charity that while there are funding cuts, if it can work with local authorities and central government to affect policy change, that is better than the alternative of constant frustration and conflict.
John Lyon’s Charity stressed how it put a lot of its success down to the longevity of funding and its presence as a steady constant in its Beneficial Area for the past 25 years. It saw one of the biggest problems being large grants (from any source) being given for a short period of time, only to then withdraw funding and support. That is as damaging to CYP groups as not having the funding in the first place.
Pamela Dow (Chief Reform Officer at Catch 22) was a mildly dissenting voice from other panel members. She drew to attention to the book Obliquity by John Kay, “that is all about the concept of unintended consequences. The first unintended consequence is the idea that a Children’s Minister is going to change anything. But if you want to stop a sort of a neophiliac love for innovation, I guarantee the best way you can do it is getting a load of Children’s Ministers who want eye-catching initiatives to be personally associated with.”
Finally, the need for the young themselves to find a voice and ensure they are heard was expressed by many. “Young people generally are a particularly disenfranchised group,” said Lisa Hackett of Frontline. “They lack the agency of adults and we don’t give them a voice.” Hamza Taouzzale urged, “Put young people at the front of things. Have a young person there to speak about it and don’t assume that we know what young people want.”
Emma Ackermann from The National Lottery among others, talked about the necessity to listen to and heed young people despite there often being a lack of trust to get over. Bharat Mehta added, “Politics is alive with young people. In Scotland [where they can vote at 16] they voted in droves…young people are alive to what’s going on.” Ciaran Rafferty, the Funding Director of City Bridge Trust even advocated “a trade union for young people – with a block vote…then they might get listened to.”
In conclusion, the key themes that emerged from the discussion were:
- Pressure on children and young people from different sources
- The impact of funding cuts (particularly on SEND)
- The perception and value of children and young people
- A silo mentality amongst organisations and government working on CYP policy
- No government representation of children and young people
- Innovation in grant making in the CYP sector is not what is always required
- Children’s and young people’s voices are unheard and unsought.
If we are going to change the narrative, it was felt that a refocus on children and young people as a government priority was imperative. It was also strongly felt that as a society – and for us as a group of key influencers – we should bring attention back to children and young people. Children and young people should be listened to and given respect. As a start, we should be including their opinions and views into our organisations. As a community of CYP bodies we will look to forge opportunities to work collaboratively together – whether that’s through co-funding or sharing ideas, as there was a recognition that our voice is stronger together to enact some real change in a sector that sorely requires it. A re-think is required that will require joined up thinking across the participants at the roundtable and across national and local government to ensure that policy places children’s and young people’s lives at the centre of its focus.
The UK’s Children: Is it time for a New Deal – An Interview and Podcast
Ahead of a Roundtable that John Lyon’s Charity will host on 7 March 2019, The UK’s Children: Is it time for a New Deal? I have held an interview and podcast to discuss the crisis facing the Children and Young People’s sector and John Lyon Charity’s experience of the impact cuts are having on so many of our grantees.
The podcast also features interviews with three of our grantees, showcasing some of the fantastic work that young people’s charities are doing in North and West London: Primary Shakespeare Company, Redthread and Mama Youth.
Click for the full article and podcast.
A New Attitude to Young People is Needed
2018 was a year which saw a focus in the media on urban youth crime, with many authors and publications giving their view on what are the underlying issues causing violence amongst young people. Other themes tackled included the increase in homelessness and the increased need for mental health provision amongst the young. In many articles, the young themselves are being blamed for causing their own problems.
There are over 9.5 million young people in the UK, aged 10-24 (ONS: Population Projections, 2018), and they are not all carrying knives or guns. There is a huge problem with the media giving into sensationalism to achieve headlines in the era of Buzzfeed and social media clickbait. Not only are young people vilified, but stereotypes are often used around race or class to disparage young people. We never hear about the ‘middle ground’ – those young people who keep their heads down, work hard and make a positive contribution to society. Even on The Guardian’s website, if you search ‘young people’, a list of stories either on crime, homelessness or mental health appears alongside articles on how young people are ‘snowflakes’ and with little drive or ambition.
What all of these topics have in common, is that none of them are new. John Lyon’s Charity has been responding to these issues for the past 25 years. However, the depth of knowledge we have in our nine London boroughs shows us that, despite what the media would have us think, young people are not ‘a’ problem or ‘the’ problem. Government funding in the children and youth sector has been cut and demands on our time and our funds are increasing. We need to take a step back and celebrate the work of the charities and young people we support.
Too often it is easy to be negative and assume there is little hope for young people. Our driving aim to provide aspiration for all children and young people remains, and much of what we see when we visit our grantees fills us with hope and optimism. We may not be able to change every child’s life, but we know we are reaching a significant number; and where we are, we are making a real difference. For example, we fund opportunities through our School Holiday Activity Fund (SHAF) that aren’t headline grabbing or tackling big causes, rather they quietly ensure young people can just have fun by going on trips or trying new activities in the school holidays. The appreciation and excitement we see in these grantees is wonderful, and reminds us of the positive rather than negative images of young people.
We see innovation, creativity and determination every day in our grantees. I was lucky enough to be at a graduation event for Mama Youth Project’s latest graduates just before Christmas. The sheer joy and enthusiasm from the graduates from a range of backgrounds was inspirational. The MAMA Youth Project recruits, trains and nurtures young people between 18-25 from under-represented groups or with limited educational or employment opportunities. Through training projects they equip people with the skills and experience to secure long-term employment in the TV and media industry. 90 % of graduates are in sustained employment a year after training completion.
Another of our grantees – Adam Matan, the incredibly talented CEO of the Anti-Tribalism Movement was awarded an OBE in the New Year’s honours list for services to the Somali community. The organisation is working towards a cohesive and dynamic society where every person’s rights are protected regardless of tribe, clan, gender or political belief. We see the hope this Charity brings to the Somali community.
Keith Morgan, the new CEO of the Young Camden Foundation (YCF) has a dynamism and drive to push through the anger and frustration with funding cuts. He refuses to believe that a whole generation is lost, and is actively building more capacity and attracting investment into the youth sector.
We have many more stories to tell and share like this, as I’m sure many of you do. And we need to tell them because the misrepresentation of young people from under-represented groups in the media negatively affects society as a whole. We are into a New Year. The impact of cuts to youth services and to schools is a big issue to tackle. We cannot, nor should we try, to resolve these issues alone, and we will reach out to funders, business and local authorities to drive a better future for our young people. Nor should we stop talking about these issues, but we should remember to celebrate the achievements of young people and not just the problems associated with them. They are our future and need to be nurtured.
The Link Between Emotional Wellbeing and Behaviour in Schools
No child should have to face the social isolation so often caused by a lack of provision for special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), or by pupil exclusion from schools. There have been many stories in the media in recent weeks about the number of children with SEND needs rising, an increase in pupil exclusions and the importance of focusing more on children’s mental health. The three are directly related and more time should be devoted to looking at the whole picture, rather than compartmentalising the issues.
Growing up is rarely a smooth journey and often becomes more difficult when children are faced with the challenges of an unstable home life, bullying and the weight of expectation in the face of learning difficulties.
All these can hinder a child’s ability to access and engage with educational opportunities to help them reach their potential. A stable home life contributes significantly to a child’s successful emotional and psychological development. Disruptive and negative behaviours at school can often be rooted in challenges experienced at home, or not be recognised as developmental disorders such as autism and ADHD.
Pressure on schools and other organisations to find creative ways to cost-effectively compensate for the lack of SEND or mental health services is increasingly prevalent. John Lyon’s Charity supports a variety of organisations and projects that provide parenting skills training, practical advice and support services to families both in and outside the home before they reach crisis point. These used to be ‘value added’ services within our Beneficial Area comprising nine boroughs in North and West London, but the last eight years have seen an increase in grant requests, as government spending has reduced. Rising thresholds for statutory services have seen John Lyon’s Charity’s Emotional Wellbeing expenditure alone increase almost nine times in as many years (£900,000 in 2017/18).
A rise in the number of pupils with special educational needs and disabilities is putting pressure on schools, prompting concerns that children are missing out on classroom support and leaving mainstream settings. The most recent school census data shows the number of children with special educational needs and disabilities rose by 15,470 in the year to January 2017 to a total of 1.24m.
What is not just worrying, but terrifying is that every day in our work we see the effects of this rise; if you have a child with a SEND or a behavioural problem, they are more likely to require some type of emotional support, or counselling, but are less likely to receive it than ever before due to increased demands on local government funds. They are far more likely to be excluded from school, causing more distress to the child, putting them in a vicious circle that becomes hard to break.
The National Children’s Bureau (NCB), the National Education Union (NEU), Coram and the Child Poverty Action Group, among others, have urged Prime Minister Theresa May and Chancellor Philip Hammond in an open letter to “put children and young people at the heart of government spending”. The letter quotes NHS figures that suggest less than a third of children and young people with a diagnosable mental health problem will get access to NHS-funded treatment this year. It also points to problems within schools, citing government data that shows the number of children with SEND who are waiting for provision has more than doubled since 2010.
Added to the anxiety around special educational needs and disabilities, a report published last week by the Institute for Public Policy Research found that permanent exclusions in England have gone up by 40 percent in the last three years. There were 6,685 last year, but the report said this was “just the tip of the iceberg”, as children are increasingly being removed informally from schools so they do not feature in official statistics. I must pause at this point, to consider how unbelievable this is: children are being excluded from schools off the record, so they don’t ruin a school’s statistics. How have we got to this point?
A total of 48,000 children were educated outside mainstream last year in what is known as alternative provision (AP). It is worth pointing out, that while at results time each August, the media focus on those getting the top grades and ‘result inflation’, only 1 percent of excluded children, get the five good GCSEs needed to access post-16 training and apprenticeships.
A BBC Report just published says more than 200 pupils spent at least five straight days in isolation booths in schools in England last year and claims more than 5,000 children with special educational needs also attended isolation rooms at some stage. The Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, says school isolation can be “distressing and degrading” and she is concerned it is being used “as a gateway to excluding and off-rolling”, where pupils are removed from a school’s register. Once children are off the register and in a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU), the regulation, reporting and accountability falls away. Our own experience as a leading grant giver to children and young people in North and West London is that, once pupils are in a PRU, they can become an easy target for gangs wanting to exploit vulnerable children. The vicious circle and spiral of decline is then much harder to end.
There are many charities like us across the UK that will continue to support children and young people’s mental health and support children with SEND. However, the ‘thread’ of connection between SEND, school exclusion and the need for support and counselling is missing at a policy-making level. Government needs to make the link and understand that the cuts in services during austerity has led to a host of problems that schools are now expected to solve. Additional funds are required to deal with issues highlighted here, but – more importantly – a comprehensive review of and a clear policy on how intervention and support in the early years of a child’s life make a remarkable difference to their ability to achieve and also be a much more cost-effective approach to mental health and good behaviour for the long term.
Why we need a Minister for Young People
Last week Amber Rudd condemned the UN inquiry into poverty in the UK. While the language of the report is indeed both political and critical of the Government’s approach to austerity there is no denying that around 14 million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty. Philip Alston, the UN’s rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, highlighted predictions that child poverty could rise by 7 percentage points between 2015 and 2022, possibly up to a rate of 40%. It feels like Groundhog Day: another day, another report on child poverty and the alarming decline of funding in children and youth services in the UK. More news stories about another stabbing of a young person in London, the 119th this year. These stories are related. As the leading North and West London Charity funding this sector for the past 30 years, our first-hand experience shows us that the need for a Minister for Young People; a voice for this group, has never been greater.
The all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on youth affairs recently reported that as a result of major financial cuts to services over the past decade, universal youth work has disappeared in some areas, with funding being diverted to short-term and targeted provision. Increasingly high thresholds for support were also leaving young people behind, it said. Fully, between 2009/10 and 2016/17 spending on youth services fell by 62.3 per cent (without accounting for inflation) – from £1.028bn to £0.388bn. The impact has seen the loss of 3,500 jobs, more than 600 youth centres and 130,000 places for young people.
Just think about that: a 62.3% reduction in spending on youth services over the past 8 years. If you go onto the Department of Education’s ‘Youth Service’ page, the last time anything was published on Youth Priorities was in 2013. It feels as though it has been left behind as a sector and no Minister is solely responsible for this.
Just three months ago, we were hopeful as the DCMS launched its Civil Society Statement: ‘The Government recognises that despite the pressures on public sector finances, new thinking has emerged supporting innovation, new partnerships and collaboration, spanning public, private and civil society partners. One model is local Young People’s Foundations, where imaginative local trusts, such as John Lyon’s Charity, local government, business and the independent youth sector, have come together to develop new partnerships and services for young people.’ Civil Society Strategy: building a future that works for everyone, DCMS 2018.
The DCMS set out their proposals for how they should interact with the wider charitable sector though a tried and tested model used in seven London boroughs by John Lyon’s Charity. However, roll forward three months and the one DCMS Minister – Tracey Crouch – who showed real interest in young people and youth services resigned last week, over the delay in the reduction in fixed one-time bets; something which has an enormous impact on the lives of young people and their families.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (and Loneliness, Charities, and the National Lottery) is already a hotchpotch of bits of other departments that don’t fit in anywhere. Its brief is to “drive growth, enrich lives and promote Britain abroad. It is also to protect and promote our cultural and artistic heritage and help businesses and communities to grow by investing in innovation and highlighting Britain as a fantastic place to visit. We help to give the UK a unique advantage on the global stage, striving for economic success.” Mmm, this is all very well, but what does this have to do with youth services or promoting early intervention work on knife-crime or supporting youth clubs? Apparently the DCMS is also supposed to cover Youth Policy, but given its vast brief, it is doubtful that the new Minister, Mims Davies, will have the necessary time to devote to the youth sector. This will be the seventh minister with responsibility for youth policy since 2010.
Young people’s views matter more than ever and need to be heard across government. Currently, no one in government is championing their cause or need. As a part of the Civil Society Statement, the Government was committed to undertake a review of statutory guidance that requires local authorities to provide youth services. However, this is now called into question given the change of Minister with an ever growing brief.
Our long experience of working with young people in London means we understand what good youth work looks like and the beneficial impact this can have on young people’s lives. Our current 500+ live grants show that what previously used to be considered ‘core’ in state provision has shrunk rapidly and our funds are in demand for far more than just value-added services. We fund a range of activities from youth clubs to supplementary schools, from in-school counselling to apprenticeships – all charities that work with and for children and young people in North and West London.
We grant by focussing on the positive through directing our efforts on providing opportunities for young people. It is the potential to learn, grow and become that drives our grant giving. We see the benefits of investing in a youth club as a safe space to hang out with supervised youth workers; we see the results of supporting boxing clubs that channel aggression into something positive; we see the impact of participating in front line counselling in London’s major trauma centres. It is not circumstantial evidence or coincidence that we see a reduction in crime in certain estates where we have invested in youth charities.
What we and other young people’s charities have is the ability to show what works effectively and where resources are needed. But we cannot do it alone and need a Minister for Young People to work with us to ensure that the young people of today have a future for tomorrow.