Giving every child a safe, loving home is not only a private matter

Posted by Kate Mulley / Thursday 10 December 2015 / Children's centres Early intervention
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Parenting is a sensitive issue. The public debate tends to fall into two categories – what good parenting is and what we should do about ‘bad’ parents.

All of this tends to be played out at extremes and from the perspective of adults. Am I good parent? Whose fault is it that this parent hurt their child?

Action for Children wants to start from a different perspective – what do children need? Hardly revolutionary, but too often, especially in politics and public policy, the needs of children are side-lined.

We believe that every child should have the chance to reach their potential. To do that they need safety, love, physical and emotional wellbeing, security and consistency. In their early years, parents largely supply this.

Yet every parent needs support. Being a parent is hard – nothing prepares you for the reality. It’s not an exact science. It’s demanding and unrelenting. But most parents are able to say it is also the most satisfying and wonderful responsibility in the world.

Lucky children have an extended social network, able to offer time, help and the moral support their family needs. Children from better-off households will receive vast amounts of qualified support – in the form of child minders, tutors, music lessons or after-school clubs. Some will have deeply engaged and informed parents, who will agonise about the merits and disadvantages of structured play.

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So why can it be so hard for parents who most need support get it? The simple answer is that the state has not yet acknowledged its role in supporting every single child from before birth. We have separate policies about the provision of childcare, the quality of children’s centres and readiness for education. But we must say out loud that giving every child the best possible chance of a safe, loving and nurturing home is not only a private matter – it is also a public one.

This is not about prescribing parenting standards – every child and every family is different. It is about building a vision for the outcomes we want for our children and considering it a shared endeavour to meet them. This requires children to be visible and prioritised, something which cannot be achieved purely from the privacy of the home. It becomes possible when communities are resilient and public services are freely accessed – a local and national effort.

 

National governments need to sign up to a set of outcomes that society believes represent the results of a decent childhood – measuring physical, emotional and social development. Political parties need to back them over the long-term. Only then will we see national policy and local provision that pursues these goals consistently, sheltered from the harsh winds of political change.

The debates in these round tables were striking for the degree of consensus we heard from different political and professional perspectives. This gives me hope that ensuring all children have a decent childhood will one day be widely regarded as a basic requirement of our society.

The New Local Government Network’s report, Picking Up The Signs Not The Pieces, is published today.

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