Political leaders must solve social problems leaving children ‘scarred for life’

Tuesday 19 November 2019

On the day of the next Election Debate, 140+ children’s organisations* are calling on political leaders to set out their solutions to the social problems that can leave millions of children ‘scarred for life’

In an open letter** to all political parties, organisations including the National Children’s Bureau, NSPCC, Barnardo’s, Action For Children and The Children’s Society, say children are being ‘crowded out’ of the discussion of the nation’s future, leaving their needs overlooked and their voices unheard.

As party leaders set out their visions for the future, the letter urges them to put children at the heart of this election, and take action to prioritise them in the next Parliament.

There are nearly 14 million children living in the UK, of whom over four million live in poverty. A child is taken into care every 15 minutes and one in eight 5 to 19-year-olds have at least one mental health condition. The charities say the services vulnerable children such as these rely on are facing a ‘funding crisis’ as the number needing help continues to rise. The Children’s Commissioner for England estimates it will require £10bn of investment to turn this situation around and support our children to thrive.

The organisations insist children should be put at the front of the queue for increased funding. The letter calls on political parties to focus on preventing crises in the first place by providing early support for children and families, to prevent their problems spiralling out of control and requiring more expensive services later.

On the day of the second televised Election Debate, children and young people are raising their voices along with children’s charities, using the hashtag #IfIWerePM to share their priorities for Government.

Geraint (aged 18), a member of the National Children’s Bureau’s Young NCB, said:

“I like the idea of votes at 16, but there needs to be more education about politics for young people (and everyone else!). We need to learn about the parties, how to vote, and the issues. If I were prime minster, I would push for greater political education.”

Bilkis (aged 20), a young trustee for The Children’s Society said:

“If we start to put money towards a child’s early development and learning, as well as funding for youth engagement services and clubs - I believe there will be less gang related violence and anti-social behaviour in the community. Instead young people will be learning life skills, having fun and feel inspired to give back to the community.”

Gabby (aged 17), a young supporter of Action for Children, said:

“There needs to be more of a focus on the things that affect us like mental health. It seems like Brexit is all that is talked about now and we weren’t allowed to vote on that even though it’s going to massively affect us. Our views aren’t taken into account at all. A lot of politicians don’t understand the pressure we face and think we should just get on with it.”

Louise (aged 17), a member of Barnardo’s South East and Anglia Region Our Voice Youth Forum, said:

“I’m really passionate about the mental health care in this country and how restrictive it is. It needs improving so that early intervention can happen. I understand from a different perspective because I’ve been one of those individuals in care of CAMHS, which finishes when you are 18. That’s a major crisis point for lots of individuals like me.”


Action for Children



National Children's Bureau

The Children's Society

Achievement for All

Alström Syndrome UK


Ambitious about Autism

Association of Child Protection Professionals

Association of Play Industries

Association of School and College Leaders

ATD Fourth World

Baobab Centre for Young Survivors in Exile

Batten Disease Family Association



BF Adventure

Bishop of Durham

Bounce Forward

British Academy of Childhood Disability

British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy

British Dyslexia Association

British Youth Council


Catch 22

Centre for Mental Health

Centre for Research in Early Childhood

Cerebral Palsy Sport

Chailey Heritage Foundation

Champs Academy

Child Poverty Action Group

Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition

Children North East

Children's Rights Alliance for England

Children's University

CLIC Sargent

Consortium of Voluntary Adoption Agencies



Coram BAAF

Dorset Children's Foundation

Early Childhood Studies Degrees Network

Early Education

Escape Intervention Services

Family Fund

Family Links

Grandparents Plus

Greater Manchester Poverty Action

H is for Harry

Healthy Teen Minds

Home for Good

Home-Start UK


Include Me TOO

Independent Children's Homes Association

Institute of Health Visiting

Intergenerational Foundation


Just Fair

Just For Kids Law

Keeping Early Years Unique



Leap Confronting Conflict

Mental Health First Aid England

METRO Charity


Montessori St. Nicholas Charity

Nacro change



National Association for Youth Justice

National Association of Headteachers

National Association of Independent Schools & Non-Maintained Special Schools

National Development Team for Inclusion

National Education Union

National Family Mediation

National Leaving Care Benchmarking Forum

National Network of Parent Carer Forums

National Youth Advocacy Service



Niemann-Pick UK

Our Time

Parent-Infant Foundation

Partnership for Children

Partnership for Young London


Rainbow Trust Children's Charity

Resources for Autism

RJ Working

Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists

Safer London


SafeToNet Foundation

Salford CVS



Scottish Out of School Care Network

SEFDEY Professional Association


Social Workers Union

Social Workers Without Borders

Sports and PE Association

St Vincent's Family Project

Standing Committee for Youth Justice


Step Up To Serve



Team Mental Health

The ADD-vance ADHD and Autism Trust

The Association of Child Psychotherapists

The Care Experienced Conference

The Care Leavers Association

The Centre for Outcomes of Care

The Childhood Trust

The Children's Sleep Charity

The Enthusiasm Trust

The Equality Trust

The Fostering Network

The Marine Society and Sea Cadets

The Matthew Elvidge Trust

The Mulberry Bush

The National Organisation for Foetal Alcohol Syndrome-UK

The Reach Foundation

The Together Trust

Thomas Pocklington Trust

Together for Short Lives

Triple P UK


Unicef UK


Winston's Wish


Young Epilepsy


Your Life Your Story

Youth Access

Youth Practitioners’ Association

** The open letter (embargoed until 00:01 Friday 29 November)


As leaders of charities and organisations working with vulnerable children across the UK, we ask that you address the needs of our youngest citizens and set out how you will prioritise them in the next Parliament.

General elections are the moments when we debate and decide the nation’s future and there is no greater investment that we, as a society, and you, as politicians, can make for our future prosperity than ensuring every child gets the best start in life. Strengthening childhoods builds a healthier society and a stronger economy.

There are almost 14 million children in the UK but their voices are missing from the national conversation and far too little attention has been paid to their needs, particularly those of the most vulnerable. Instead, the debate on Brexit means the issues affecting children are being crowded out of the national debate.

We are asking each of you to put children at the heart of this election. We invite you to listen directly to the voices of children and commit to three actions to improve their outcomes:

  • Set out your party’s priorities for vulnerable children. The number of children in the UK living in poverty has risen to 4.1 million. A child goes into care every 15 minutes. One in eight 5 to 19 year olds have at least one mental health condition. Your parties must set out how they will protect children from these and other challenges like online harm, serious youth violence and the criminal exploitation of children. These are urgent problems that can leave children scarred for a lifetime, with consequences for the whole of society.
  • Put children at the front of the queue for investment. We know from our frontline experience that support from services and professionals can be crucial in helping children and families thrive, such as help for new parents to bond with their babies; support for pupils at risk of school exclusion; and child protection teams who intervene when children are in danger.

However, these services are increasingly facing a funding crisis, as the number of children needing support is continuing to rise – there has been a 17% increase in the number of children in care since 2010 - and the amount of money the Government provides to spend on children’s services has fallen. The Local Government Association estimates that the funding gap for children’s services will be £3.1 bn by 2024 and England’s Children’s Commissioner says £10bn is needed to ensure all disadvantaged children get a chance to thrive.

  • Re-balance spending. We’re spending more on the consequences of children ending up in crisis and less and less on preventing crisis in the first place. In the past decade, spending on early intervention services fell by 49% while spending on statutory, late intervention services rose by 12%.

Early help services like children’s centres are missing out on funding even though they play a crucial role in identifying children with developmental problems or families struggling at home. The next Government should ensure local authorities have the resources to run early intervention programmes which have been proven to work.

Only through an honest debate about how we respond to these challenges, and the urgency with which we do it, can this election help set us on a better path for all children.

This could be the most important General Election in a generation and the children we work with don’t have a vote - so they must have a voice.

We look forward to hearing from you,

Yours sincerely,

Julie Bentley, Action for Children

Javed Khan, Barnardo’s

Anna Feuchtwang, National Children’s Bureau

Peter Wanless, NSPCC

Mark Russell, The Children’s Society

Etc. +137 other organisations (see list in press release above)

About the National Children’s Bureau

For more than 50 years, the National Children’s Bureau has worked to champion the rights of children and young people in the UK. We interrogate policy and uncover evidence to shape future legislation and develop more effective ways of supporting children and families. As a leading children’s charity, we take the voices of children to the heart of Government, bringing people and organisations together to drive change in society and deliver a better childhood for the UK. We are united for a better childhood.

For more information visit

About Barnardo’s

Last year around 300,000 children, young people, parents and carers were supported by Barnardo’s through more than 1,000 services across the UK, such as young carers, care leavers, foster carers and adoptive parents, training and skills or parenting classes.

Barnardo’s works to change the lives of vulnerable children in the UK and every year it helps thousands of families to build a better future.

Visit to find out how to get involved. Registered charity No. 216250 and SC037605.

About Action for Children

Action for Children protects and supports vulnerable children and young people by providing practical and emotional care and support, ensuring their voices are heard and campaigning to bring lasting improvements to their lives. With 476 services in communities across the country, the charity helps more than 387,000 children, teenagers, parents and carers a year.

About The Children’s Society

The Children’s Society is a national charity that helps the most vulnerable children and young people in Britain today. We run services and campaigns to make children’s lives better and change the systems that are placing them in danger. We listen. We support. We act. Together with our supporters we’re improving the lives of children today and building hope for a better future.


The NSPCC is the leading children’s charity fighting to end child abuse in the UK and Channel Islands. Using voluntary donations, which make up around 90 per cent of our funding, we help children who’ve been abused to rebuild their lives, we protect children at risk, and we find the best ways of preventing child abuse from ever happening. So when a child needs a helping hand, we’ll be there. When parents are finding it tough, we’ll help. When laws need to change, or governments need to do more, we won’t give up until things improve.

Our Childline service provides a safe, confidential place for children with no one else to turn to, whatever their worry, whenever they need help. Children can contact Childline 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Our free NSPCC Helpline provides adults with a place they can get advice and support, share their concerns about a child or get general information about child protection. Adults can contact the Helpline 365 days a year.