This new book of essays seeks to stimulate new thinking about services for children, in particular for those who need our protection and support the most. The State is shrinking but even before it was, its glaring weaknesses – locally and centrally – have been there for all to see.
The roll call of institutional failure, abuse, neglect and sometimes downright cruelty has grown with monotonous regularity. As a country we seem to struggle to make children a political and investment priority. Too many of our children are left inadequately supported in troubled families, low-income households and just plain loose in society. Even when in the State’s care they are still not always protected or nurtured, left ill-equipped to face and survive in a tough world. When their plight is revealed there is much wringing of hands but too often too little changes as the merry-go-round of neglect continues.
The optimism of an era that passed the 1989 Children Act and put the interests of the child centre stage seems a long time ago. We still have a statutory framework for protecting children, but the investment in that framework continues to shrink with no end in sight. As money gets tighter organisations seek to protect themselves, tightening their eligibility criteria and looking nervously at co-operative ventures. Better to survive until better financial weather comes, they think; but what if it doesn’t? The children in need and at risk are still there – and probably increasing in number.
There are thankfully still a lot of talented and committed people around – both professionals and others – who want to help and work with children and young people. They work hard, often struggling to make sense of the systems that they have to work within. These people need to be rescued with some new creative FOREWORD vii thinking and action. As the traditional public expenditure pots continue decreasing new approaches must be tried if vulnerable children aren’t to get an even worse deal.
Today it is worth remembering the wartime advice of the eminent physicist Ernest Rutherford; “we haven’t got the money, so we’ve got to think.” This set of essays attempts to deliver some of that new thinking for an era of public expenditure austerity.
For meaningful change that helps children at risk and in need the action must shift locally. Hanging around for the men and women in Whitehall and Westminster to act could mean a very long wait. We just have to hope they don’t get in the way! The watchwords for the new normal of shrinking public budgets must be innovation, technology, partnership, localism and outcomes, not processes. There are plenty of ideas along these lines in these essays for people to get their teeth into. For the sake of the children who need our help, let’s hope people do.