Security, stability and opportunity for children?

by Richard Newson October 6, 2015

Has the Conservative Party Conference provided hope for children? Enver Solomon, Director of Evidence and Impact at National Children's Bureau, considers.

Security, stability and opportunity was the message on the hoardings at the Conservative party conference this week. What does this mean for the nation's children? According to ministers speaking at various fringe events it's about how to ensure children reach their potential. And the answer to that is 'character education'.  

It sounds rather grand. For the education secretary Nicky Morgan, character is one of her top priorities. Schooling, she argues, is not just about teaching core subjects but about instilling the virtues of compassion, care, self-regulation, honesty and decency, as well as overcoming failure. Such virtues should be role modelled by all teachers and be at the heart of every school's ethos and culture. And it's not just the job of schools. Parents and civic society must shape children so they acquire the virtues needed to become good citizens

This appears to be the developing narrative for children as the government sets out its agenda for the next five years.  The aspiration is for the UK to be global leaders in character education.    

What does it mean in practice? Schools are very much at the heart of the character project. Their mission should not just be about academic achievement but also teaching children to be good citizens. This can done through sport, schemes such as the Duke of Edinburgh awards and other social action initiatives. The community and voluntary sector also have a key role to play as does business. 

None of this is very new, but the language is different. Social and emotional learning, well-being programmes and the previous healthy schools programme all had the same objective. They have a stronger evidence base as the recent evidence review published by NCB shows. It's important not to forget this and see character education as being part of an approach to childhood which is centred on a child's overall social and emotional development.  

Character is now the latest government buzzword for children. There's nothing wrong with this. Ultimately, it's about giving all children the opportunity to flourish.  But it needs to be presented in a wider well-being framework as a means to supporting children to become happy, healthy and productive adults. 


Filed Under:

What will the 'kinder' politics of the opposition mean for children?

by Richard Newson September 30, 2015

Jeremy Corbyn's speech to the Labour party conference centred on kindness and equality. So, how might this translate into policies that promote child wellbeing? Zoe Renton, NCB’s Head of Policy, considers #Lab15.

With a brand new leader and shadow front bench, Labour's party conference this year was unlikely to provide big policy announcements on children’s issues. However, there were some hints of Corbyn's priorities, and fringe appearances by key spokespeople gave us a sense of their emerging plans.

Corbyn's emphasis on family security, cuts to welfare and affordable housing will be welcomed by many in the children's sector, where there are grave concerns about government plans to cut tax credits and eradicate the very concept of child poverty, rather than child poverty itself! (See the Welfare Reform and Work Bill currently going through Parliament). But, given the opposition failed to block the Bill a couple of weeks ago, you'd be forgiven for wondering how they will really make a difference, while at the same time developing alternative policies that they can sell to the public in the 'age of austerity'.

In a fascinating fringe debate, a new labour MP challenged his party on just that, saying they needed new ideas and to reframe the debate. Nevertheless, the new shadow employment minister and NCB's own local MP, Emily Thornberry, explicitly refused to compromise on the party's mission to eradicate child poverty – welcome news for NCB and other members of the End Child Poverty coalition which is calling for the same triple lock on children's benefits as has been given to pensioners.

Health inequalities and the impact of poverty on health – key themes of our recent report 'Poor Beginnings' – were highlighted by the new shadow public health minister, Andrew Gwynne MP, who talked about the ten year difference in life expectancy between those living in the affluent and disadvantaged areas in his constituency. He said he wanted the transfer of responsibility for children's public health to local authorities to provide the catalyst for ensuring that children's health and well-being strategies are embedded across all local services. This is a useful start for organisations, like NCB, working to improve the health of children, keen to see a cross-government approach at the national and local level.   

A week into the job, Lucy Powell MP, the new shadow education secretary continues to show an interest in her former brief, childcare, a sign of the Commons opposition preparing for the Childcare Bill. The Bill will enable the government to double the amount of free childcare available for working parents of 3-4 year-olds, but with little detail on the plans, NCB is concerned that while the policy is welcome in principle there won't be sufficient funds to ensure the care offered is good quality, delivered by a highly skilled workforce and accessible for disabled children or those with special educational needs.

Corbyn’s speech touched on children and young people’s mental health services – recognition of the need for investment and reform. He also indicated that under Labour responsibility for all schools, including academies and free schools, would be returned to local authorities – perhaps recognising that the government’s weakness on education could be their focus on structures rather than the purpose and quality of education.

So it was useful that we heard something about children in Corbyn’s speech, underpinned by his stated vision for a society that has 'aspirations for all children not just the few'. Nevertheless, there’s a way to go before we have a more detailed understanding of what Labour might be saying about children and families when (or if) he leads his party into the 2020 election. 


Filed Under:

North and south, rich and poor

by Richard Newson September 14, 2015

Kiran Iqbal, a Young NCB member aged 18 from Rochdale, gets to grips with health inequalities.

For decades, England has seen a large divide between the north and the south of the country in almost every aspect, whether it is regarding poverty, education, economics, employment or the quality of one’s life. However, this divide is particularly in evidence for health.

In Rochdale, which is the country’s 23 most deprived area in England, many young children are affected by poor health outcomes:

  • Nearly one in ten 4-5 year olds are obese
  • Nearly 30% of these young children have tooth decay and
  • Half of all children in Rochdale fail to achieve a good level of development by the time that they leave reception.

I believe that it is completely unfair and unacceptable that a child is disadvantaged from such an early stage in their life simply because of where they live. These issues are limiting children from achieving their potential and are having devastating effects which reach into every part of a child’s life, not just their health.

Childhood obesity is a serious problem. Obese children are more likely to develop asthma, diabetes and emotional and behaviour problems both during childhood and later in life.

We know that there is a strong link between low income and childhood obesity – children from poorer areas are almost twice as likely to be obese as those from more wealthy areas and research on this has found that it is likely to be because ‘healthy’ food such as fresh fruit and veg is generally more expensive than junk.

Many young people and adults that I know admit that they would eat healthier if a salad cost the same as a burger.

The story is similar for tooth decay: a third of five-year olds in my region have tooth decay. I know a girl from a low-income family who has bad tooth decay and because of this she has had problems with her speech for most of her life and struggles to communicate with other people.This shows that even if the problem seems trivial it can have adverse effects for a young person’s future.

If young children in the North West had the same health and development outcomes as children in the South East, every year we would have:

  • Over 1,500 fewer obese 4-5 year old’s
  • Around 11,000 fewer 5 year olds with tooth decay
  • And over 5,000 more children achieving a good level of development at the end of Reception

This is unacceptable especially for a country as Britain which is ranked as having the 14th best healthcare system in Europe, and the 18th best system in the World.

It is time for the government, and local authorities, to take note of the findings in this report and take action in resolving these issue of inequality, especially for children, regardless of where they come from.

Poor Beginnings is available from: beginnings


Filed Under:

A child’s postcode still determines their health and development

by websupport September 7, 2015
As local authorities take on responsibility for public health services for young children, the National Children's Bureau's Head of Policy, Zoe Renton, discusses our new report which reveals that the North-South divide continues to have an impact on the life chances of children growing up above a certain latitude.

Using data collected by Public Health England, Poor Beginnings finds that simply by growing up in a certain part of the country, a young child is more likely to suffer from obesity, tooth decay, injury and poor development in the early years. A five-year-old growing up in Leicester, for example, is five times more likely to have tooth decay than a child of the same age in West Sussex. A child starting school in Barking and Dagenham in London is two and half times more likely to be obese than a pupil of the same age in Richmond upon Thames, just on the other side of the capital.

These experiences of poor health will not only pose problems for children in their early years, but will have implications for the rest of their lives.

But it is the gap between the North and South of the country that stands out. In the North West, thousands fewer children would suffer poor health in the first five years of their life if the region had the same outcomes as the South East. There would be, for example, 11,000 fewer children suffering from tooth decay, and 5,500 more children reaching the right level of personal and social development to help them prepare for learning and school life.

The link between deprivation and the health of young children is also clear. Those in the 30 most deprived local authorities are more likely to be obese, have tooth decay and suffer injuries, and less likely to reach a good level of development than those in the 30 least deprived areas.

However this pattern is not inevitable. There are areas that buck the trend, where young children are doing as well as or better than the national average despite growing up in difficult social and economic circumstances – like Salford with average obesity rates or South Tyneside with low levels of tooth decay.

Disrupting these regional and socio-economic trends will take strong political resolve, as well as strong leadership and an ambitious cross-government national strategy for improving the health and development of all young children.  We also need to understand and respond to those inequalities that are less easy to explain – and learn from areas where children are doing better despite high levels of deprivation.

From October, the onus will be on local authorities to support public health services for young children. However, in light of persistent regional variations and the continuing link between poverty and health, now is the time to make reducing the health gap between young children growing up in different parts of the country a new national mission.


Filed Under: Health

International Youth Day: where next for NCB?

by Richard Newson August 13, 2015

On International Youth Day, Jack Welch unpicks what he and fellow members of Young NCB are doing to have their say.

As this year’s International Youth Day celebrates the value of civic engagement, it is a timely reminder to take stock of the many challenges affecting young people across the UK and what the team at Young NCB see as their role in advocating for the organisation itself and beyond.

This month brought together a dozen activists in the cohort of Young NCB members to celebrate their achievements during the past year at a residential in Doncaster. It was also a chance to help NCB consider its future in the current political and socio-economic climate, as well as looking at how people beyond the sector could recognise how the diverse functions of the charity serve young people.

What does it mean to be ‘civically engaged’ though? While there may be no single definition, the value of young people’s participation in society to influence wider outcomes, which encourages their personal development as an asset to the community, would be a start. This is a good definition of what we do at Young NCB.

Some of the discussions at the residential, identified young people in the UK as more likely than ever to be facing economic disadvantage that will leave many of the most vulnerable without any safety net. As highlighted in NCB’s ‘Generation Next’ report last year, which found that less than two-fifths of those surveyed believed that their life would be better than their parents. Tougher restrictions on the welfare system and high debt after university are also likely to impact on the quality of life of children and young people; problems which will be picked up by charities such as NCB.

After extensive coverage of the collapse of Kids Company, the Young NCB group recognised the serious implications for the way charities would be able to do their work, with the fear that many in the course of this Parliament could close their doors and an increase in demand for those that are able to survive.

Without charities like NCB, the Young NCB members felt that their chances would be significantly worse as they would be deprived of an outlet to engage with decision-makers and other important forums.

While many more of the current generation of young people are responsible and keen to participate in civic engagement than at any other time, it cannot be forgotten that young people worldwide also face more uncertainty about their futures. Those in power must realise that the cost will be grave if they are unfairly penalised and not allowed to play their part.



Filed Under:

Improving the mental health of mothers

by Richard Newson July 30, 2015

How can mental health services for the crucial period before and after birth be improved? Amy Davies considers.

This week NCB and the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) are bringing together professionals from across the country to discuss how best to support women who are affected by mental health problems during pregnancy and in the first year after birth.

More precisely, we will be considering the mental health services that support mothers and their children in this period. These services, known as perinatal and infant mental health (PIMH) services, provide a lifeline for mothers with mental health issues.

Up to 20% of women will be affected by a mental illness at some point during pregnancy or after the birth of their baby, which means that each year in the UK more than 70,000 families will experience the impact of these illnesses.

The cost to the NHS of the current system is £1.2bn for each annual cohort of mothers and their babies. The wider costs to society that come about because of poor attachment between parents and their children, abuse and neglect, and the adverse impact on long term child development, are even higher, costing over £8bn every year.[1]

Providing easy access to quality services is both a moral responsibility and an economic imperative.

PIMH is a national priority for Government and health service partners. And some Strategic Clinical Network (SCN) areas have put in place approaches which are providing high quality services.

However, there remains significant variation across the country in terms of the access and availability of appropriate services. Some SCN areas have no, or at best very little and localised, provision.

One way of improving services is through more joined-up working. Strategic Clinical Networks working in the areas of maternity, children and young people, and those working in mental health currently do not have any formal mechanisms for working together.


This is one area that will be addressed at our roundtable, which brings professionals together to:

  • Discuss the importance of quality PIMH services and the role of health system partners in delivering this agenda.
  • Share ideas, potential solutions, and practice and service examples likely to help take forward key messages and address the challenges.
  • Explore the different roles that the voluntary and community sector can play in supporting PIMH and wellbeing.


NCB and MHF will be producing a report from the information and views captured at this event to inform national leaders and those working within Strategic Clinical Networks about potential improvements in the ways we support mental health and wellbeing.


We hope this will contribute to better mental health for mothers and their children, and help already stretched budgets have greater impact.


Filed Under: Early Years | Health | NCB General | Vulnerable Children

Achieving emotional wellbeing for looked after children

by Richard Newson July 24, 2015

Children in care's mental health needs can be met - Grace Trevelyan in our research team looks at the steps needed.

We have known for some time that the children who are looked after within our care system are at far greater risk of experiencing poor mental health than children who live with their birth families.

In fact, they are four times more likely to have a diagnosed mental health disorder than children in the general population.

The case studies featured in a new NSPCC report bring this stark statistic, and its consequences, to life.  Stories such as those belonging to 16 year old Joe highlight an all too familiar state of affairs; one where emotional distress becomes both a cause and a symptom of placement instability and proliferating needs.

However, rather than merely describing a disjointed system that inflicts further emotional harm on already traumatised young people as a fait accompli, this report takes an important step forward by asking how care could be redesigned to promote positive mental health and setting out a vision for a care system where emotional wellbeing is prioritised, the key features of which are highlighted below. 

Five priorities for change

  • Embed an emphasis on emotional wellbeing throughout the system
    Professionals working in the care system need the skills and knowledge to understand how they can support the emotional wellbeing of looked after children and young people.
  • Take a proactive and preventative approach
    Support for looked after children should begin with a thorough assessment of their emotional and mental health needs.
  • Give children and young people voice and influence
    Looked after children and young people need more opportunities to identify what is important to them and influence their own care.
  • Support and sustain children’s relationships
    Children’s carers require training and support to be sensitive, understanding and resilient.

  • Support care leavers’ emotional needs
    Help young people identify and strengthen their support networks.

Here at NCB’s research centre we are extremely pleased to note how strongly the NSPCC’s priorities for change chime with the findings of much of our own research:

  • The importance of equipping ALL professionals working with children and young people with the skills and knowledge about emotional wellbeing emerged strongly from our work on the MindEd e-learning portal.
  • Giving young people a chance to influence their own care is the key principle which underscores NCB’s work on the ‘Taking it to the Next Level’ project which works with corporate parents and Children in Care Councils. Our evaluation of this project can be found here.
  • Our research into the skills and qualifications of the staff in children’s homes, meanwhile, strongly reinforces the need for carers to receive training that supports them to be sensitive, understanding and resilient. 
  • We welcome, in particular, the focus on strengthening the support networks around young people as they leave care. The need for ongoing emotional support as children exit the care system is a key finding of our research into the Prince’s Trust From Care to Independence Programme.

Overall, we are inspired by this vision as it is set out by the NSPCC. It feels like an important step towards establishing a greater focus on recovery within the care system, which NCB recently called for along with other leading children’s charities as part of the Alliance for Children in Care.

Click here to download Achieving Emotional Wellbeing for Looked after Children: A Whole System Approach




Filed Under: Health | Vulnerable Children

Changing the odds in the early years

by Richard Newson July 21, 2015

Local services for young children have a vital role in reducing the effect of low-income. But what do the young children and families think? Heather Ransom considers findings from a project that listened to their views.

The Office of the Children’s Commissioner (OCC) has published ‘Changing the Odds in the Early Years’, a report which examines the role of national and local government and what works in tackling poverty during a child’s  early years.

To inform the report, NCB’s Research Centre was commissioned to carry out interviews and focus groups with low-income parents to find out about their experiences of housing support, early years provision, and health services.


In addition, a researcher trained in the Mosaic Approach, worked closely with young children alongside their parents and practitioners, to make sure their voices were heard too. The report also examined the challenges facing local authorities when tackling child poverty, with this work being carried out by OCC. 


So what did families and young children themselves say about the services they rely on?


Housing was identified as the area where improvements were most needed. Too many families were found to be living in poor quality accommodation – difficult to heat, too small, or in need of repairs – or which was simply not suitable for those with young children. For instance, a high rise flat with no access to a garden or nearby park. Moreover, young children’s views were rarely sought by housing staff.


The report recommends that housing strategies and quality standards be reviewed in order to improve access to quality social housing and make private housing more affordable.


Parents valued access to free early years services, enabling them to access play and learning opportunities for their children they would not have been able to afford otherwise. They were also happy with the quality and accessibility of health services, especially those using the Family Nurse Partnership, although some difficulties were reported in getting GP appointments.


But the threshold to be eligible for early intervention services was often felt to be too high, resulting in some families feeling they needed to have reached a crisis point before support was given. Given the impact of budget cuts on families, the report is calling for free early years and health services to be protected, along with increased availability and access to preventative support for parents.


With child poverty on the rise again, and Ofsted reporting last week that the development of disadvantaged children is significantly behind their peers by age 5, more emphasis needs to be placed on ensuring that low income families are able to access support and opportunities so that they can provide their children with the best start in life.


‘Young children’s experiences of services aimed at reducing the impact of low-income’ is available from:


Filed Under: Early Years | Health | Vulnerable Children

Young people’s views on hospital care

by Richard Newson July 14, 2015

What does a survey of 19,000 children and young people tell us about the health system? Young NCB member Jack Welch asks some difficult questions.

With the quality of young people’s healthcare playing such a vital role in our lives, it was fitting that a small team from Young NCB were invited to challenge the people behind the latest survey produced by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in the House of Lords. Myself and three fellow representatives of Young NCB probed and scrutinised the findings of this new survey – the first of its kind for 11 years!

Speaking to the All Party Parliamentary Group for Children, CQC’s Deputy Chief Inspector of Hospitals, Professor Edward Baker, admitted that the time delay between the last survey and the present day was not acceptable and would be reconsidered in future consultations.

The report, which focused on those aged between 8 and 15, found that 90% of children and young people felt safe in the ward they were on and 75% felt that medical procedures were explained to them clearly.

However, Young NCB members were concerned that the limited age range meant that issues relating to the transition to adult services and how in-patients received treatment for mental health care were somewhat neglected. As Professor Baker revealed in his responses to our questions, while only 1% of under 15s were treated in adult wards, this significantly increased for those over that age. It was more worrying still that the facilities on paediatric wards were not at all suited to teenagers’ but were aimed much more towards younger children.

Further questions from the meeting included whether surveys were an appropriate tool to gather the opinions of young people, many of whom may not be inclined to give honest answers when they are around other people or may not be best engaged with this method. Professor Baker recognised this as a potential drawback, but believed that the survey was an important one to get the views of young people in hospitals heard.

What I found to be particularly worrying was the contrast in results for those young people who had disabilities or mental health issues, which suggested they were not always getting the same standard of care as other young patients.

Less than half of parents in this respect said that they thought that doctors had understood the needs of their child, with 72% of parents of children without a pre-existing condition agreeing with this statement. I questioned Professor Baker on this front, especially when it came to transitioning to adult care and how many of those with learning disabilities often struggle in their development once over 18. Other audience members also asked in regards to the care of BME groups and if standards of care fared any better regardless of background.

At the end of the event, we felt satisfied that CQC had listened to our views, that our questions were more than challenging and that action will be taken to improve the quality of children and young people’s healthcare in general.

Results from CQC’s survey of children and young people is available at:


Filed Under: Health | Involving Young People

Summer budget: a view from Young NCB

by Richard Newson July 8, 2015

The budget will have far-reaching consequences, says Young NCB member Jack Welch.

With the most anticipated political event since the General Election now complete, the Government’s announcements on welfare and spending will have significant ramifications for those under 25. The measures included in Chancellor George Osborne’s speech today included: 

  • Housing Benefit to be scrapped for under-21s. Exemptions for the most vulnerable. Automatic claims will also be ended. 
  • Maintenance Grants, which are means tested for low paid families with students going to university, are to be converted into repayable loans from the 2016/17 academic year. Like tuition fees, students will pay this once they earn £21,000 or over. 
  • Young people up to 21 will be expected to ‘earn or learn’ – described as a ‘Youth Obligation’, more restrictions will be in place if young people are to claim Job Seekers Allowance or Housing Benefit.   
  • A new National Living Wage for workers over 25 by 2020. will start next year in 2016, when current minimum wages will go up from £6.50 to £7.20.  
  • Child Tax Credits will be restricted to two children per family for new claimants by April 2017. 

These announcements today may come as a surprise to some people, particularly around the scale of the reforms which will occur over the course of the next Parliament.

The changes to Housing Benefit may see many of the most vulnerable young people, who are already struggling to make ends meet, pushed over the edge and for those who are unable to return home to family, the risk of homelessness becomes ever more likely.

A report released this week by Cambridge Centre for Housing & Planning Research shows that at least 83,000 young people have been homeless between 2013/14, an increase on previous years. It is not acceptable to simply assume that young people are lazy or that they enjoy relying on benefits, given that so many of them face difficult situations. This measure must be given greater scrutiny before any implementation can take place.

It is welcoming to see the Government raise the Living Wage in the country, but when 16-20 year olds are often paid no more than £3.87 to £5.20 per hour, this development is likely to only benefit those who are already in work and may further disadvantage those young people, including graduates, who are just starting out in the job market. With Apprenticeship wages still lower than this, this otherwise positive development may have little benefit to the younger generations.  

NCB’s analysis, produced with The Children’s Society and Children & Young People Now, indicates that services such as early intervention are likely to be hit the hardest by local authority spending cuts. Additionally, families may now also bear the brunt of these measures meaning that more and more of the country's poorest children are likely to slip further into poverty. 

The Government must think very seriously now about these reforms that they are taking. Many of the country's poorest young people may feel they have to bear the burden of these cuts and this is not acceptable if all children and young people are to have equal opportunities in their lives. 


Filed Under: Involving Young People | NCB General


<<  October 2015  >>

View posts in large calendar

Page List

Month List