In November 2023, a report titled ‘Children at the Table: A roadmap for putting children at the heart of the next Government’ was published by Action for Children, Barnardos, National Children’s Bureau, NSPCC and the Children’s Society. The report highlighted a pressing need for transformative change in policies and strategies impacting the lives of babies, children, and young people in the UK. The group of charities emphasize that a child’s health, wellbeing, and life chances are profoundly influenced by their early life experiences, adding that the stark reality is that millions of children face significant challenges.

 

The alarming reality
The report paints a concerning picture of the current situation in the UK: Approximately 4.2 million children are growing up in poverty, with 48% of the children from Black, Asian, and minority ethnic groups affected. Shockingly, one million children are living in extreme poverty, facing conditions where sharing a bed due to lack of resources is a harsh reality.

Worsening health outcomes in oral health, nutrition, respiratory health, and mental health are evident, with the most disadvantaged 10% of children nearly twice as likely to die in childhood as the most advantaged 10%. The decline in children’s wellbeing and mental health is distressing, with one in six children aged 7-16, and one in four young people aged 17-19, experiencing poor mental health. Children from families on the lowest incomes are four and a half times more likely to face severe mental health problems.

Moreover, an increasing number of children require support from children’s services due to issues at home or the risks of abuse and exploitation. In 2023, over 640,000 children were referred to children’s social care, and more than 80,000 children in England were looked after by local authorities, signifying a 22% increase in the last decade. Tragically, 201 children died due to known or suspected abuse and neglect.

 

The urgent need for transformational change
The report emphasizes that babies, children, and young people have been overlooked for too long. It calls for a positive vision for transformational change, and, helpfully, outlines a roadmap to achieve this. To spearhead the changes, the report calls for commitment and leadership from the top, asking the Prime Minister and Chancellor to personally pledge to be champions for children.

Insights from the Institute for Government underscore the importance of having a strategy and outcomes framework, alongside a coherent plan for cross-cutting programs and explanations of how resources will be allocated to achieve specific results. The report advocates for a single, consistent child identifier, such as their NHS number, so that all agencies can more easily share information, monitor outcomes and improve interventions.

Recommendations for a better tomorrow, involving children every step of the way

The report includes specific recommendations under three headings:

  • Committing to an ambitious cross-Government strategy and outcomes framework to drive improvements for babies, children and young people growing up in the UK.

  • A new approach to decision-making that places children’s interests, wishes and outcomes at its heart, involving children and young people every step of the way.

  • Investing more of our national wealth in improving the lives of babies, children and young people and spending strategically on early intervention and prevention.

The report urges increased national spending on improving the lives of children, citing evidence of the cost benefits of investing in health, education, children’s social care, and welfare. It calls for a strategic investment focused on early intervention and prevention to enhance the health, happiness, and resilience of the next generation.

Crucially, the report underlines the need to involve children, young people, and parents in decision-making processes. It calls for cultural change in children’s policy development, advocating for meaningful engagement from the start. The inclusion of a ‘check and challenge’ committee comprising children, young people, and parents is proposed to ensure their voices shape policies effectively.

A call to action

In conclusion, the ‘Children at the Table’ report is a call to action, demanding a fundamental shift in how policies are shaped and resources allocated to ensure a better today and tomorrow for the youngest members of our society.

It emphasizes that the time for transformative change is now, and collective efforts are needed to put children at the heart of the next government.

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