Friday, 27 March 2015

Teenagers are citizens too

This week I've signed an open letter to broadcasters to ask politicians what they will do for children in care in the forthcoming leader's debates. The letter is part of Children England's #ChildrenAtHeart campaign to ensure political parties consider the needs of children in their policies.  I've written before that children are citizens, but its worth repeating. Just because they don't have the vote doesn't mean they aren't important.

The sign of civilised society is one that protects and supports the vulnerable. Children are vulnerable because they are powerless - they don't have political or economic power; and are therefore dependent on the rest of us. The letter is about children in care because they are the most vulnerable of all children and actually the state has more responsibility for them as 'Corporate Parent' having total responsibility for them while they are in care.

Kathy Evans, Chief Executive at Children England recently wrote a wonderful piece in Children and Young People Now magazine reminding us of the hysterical rejection of young people during the first decade of this century - anyone in a 'hoodie' was feared and despised. Of course it's not new that young people in the teenage years have perplexed adults but some public attitudes towards young people would not be tolerated if expressed towards say women, disabled people or racial groups.

Sarah Jayne Blakemore is professor of cognitive neuroscience at University College London. She explains how new brain imaging techniques have made us realise the huge, fundamental changes that take place in human brains between puberty and the mid 20's. Changes and growth as dramatic as happens in the brains of babies and toddlers.

Current public policy is to concentrate resources to children and parents in the 'early years' i.e. pregnancy, babies and children up to age 4. The argument being that investment at that stage of life has good long term benefits. This is true, but Professor Blakemore's research suggests an equally strong case for youth services, secondary education (and probably parents of teenagers too). This is particularly important today when council support for youth services has all but disappeared in many local authorities.

I wish that politicians would take note of the growing body of knowledge about young people's brains in formulating policy for this important group of young citizens.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Investors in People

People are sometimes surprised that children's charities are not inspected. A few of the things we do are inspected by Ofsted; in common with all charities we are regulated by the Charity Commission which means we have to file our annual report and accounts with them; and as a registered business we also have to file our annual accounts with Companies House. Apart from that we are free and independent. However in a competitive world it can be hard to know how we compare to other organisations so things like Investors in People, Investors in Volunteers, CHAS etc. are really important ways for us to ensure we are up to the mark.

This week we received the report of our Investors in People re-assessment which spoke of a 'positive assessment process'; Children North East being 'impressive in many areas' having a 'strong golden thread from mission and purpose to objectives' and 'outcomes supported by a strong business planning process which includes, staff, managers and trustees'. The assessors interviewed 29 people, including some volunteers to reach these conclusions. We employ about 60 staff so it was a large sample.

Last year we changed the organisational structure of Children North East mainly because project staff wanted to collaborate more but the former structure of the organisation put obstacles in the way of that happening easily. So I was reassured the IIP found support for the changes from staff at all levels - 'people felt empowered to put forward ideas, develop solutions and collaborate'. Middle managers in particular said the changes were correct and understood why they had been necessary.

So, very encouraging feedback from an impartial, external source and Children North East has 'comfortably met the standard' for the Investors in People award for a further 3 years.

Friday, 6 March 2015


It's too easy for politicians to ignore children because they don't vote, but children are as much citizens as adults. In fact children need and deserve the attention of the powerful because they have no power themselves. Children England, the representative body for charities and voluntary organisations of all sizes working with children, young people and families believes it’s time to tell politicians that children can’t be ignored in anyone’s plans this year. We all have a childhood, and all children should be at the heart of plans for the future.
Children at Heart is an umbrella campaign organised by Children England for everyone who cares about children. Children England's members like Children North East have contributed to a manifesto but the campaign is much broader than a list of suggestions. The strength of social media enables anyone to connect with and contribute to this simple reminder to put the welfare of all children at the heart of politicians and voters intentions during the coming months and the next government.
My top priority in the campaign is that all parents should be paid the Living Wage. With two thirds of poor children growing up in families where at least one parent is in work, paying them the Living Wage would make a big difference to the lives of all those children. But I'd also like to see the next government commit all new policies to a 'Family Test' that assesses the impact of any initiative on family income, stability and wellbeing.
There is another meaning to the phrase 'children at heart' which reminds us that we have all been children, we know what being a child is like. Let's stay close to the unique perspective that children bring and try to be a bit more like 'children at heart' ourselves.
With that in mind, and it being World Book Day yesterday here is the Storyteller's Creed:

I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge.
That myth is more potent than history.
That dreams are more powerful than facts.
That hope always triumphs over experience.
That laughter is the only cure for grief.
And I believe that love is stronger than death.