Empowerment in action, not words

by websupport July 27, 2016

Charities often talk about empowering the people they represent to participate, but they must be ready to give away some of their own power in the process says Anna Feuchtwang.


Anna Feuchtwang, Chief Executive of NCB, has spent her career working for NGO’s and international development. She was most recently CEO for the international children’s charity EveryChild


Before leaving EveryChild, Anna began the process of shifting control of the programmes run by the charity, from the London based organisation, to local NGO’s and community organisations based in the countries where the programmes are run.


In this blog, she talks about the transfer of power and genuine participation. In her experience, international NGO’s will often talk about empowerment, but will rarely apply it in practice. She challenges organisations to consider where their power lies and tells them: “If you want to do good, get out of the way!”


A few years ago I was chairing a meeting of international NGOs about the UN summit on the Millennium Development Goals.  Around the table were excellent people with lots of experience who would all describe themselves and their organisations as wanting to do good. During the conversation we talked about empowerment and participation, the importance of the voices of people being heard directly by those in power.

The event we were preparing for was one of the many consultations leading up to the UN summit, and this event was being held in New York City, home of the UN and therefore closest to the actual corridors of power. As we talked excitedly of what could be achieved it emerged that nearly every organisation round the table was planning to send large delegations of UK staff with just a smattering of partner organisations from developing countries invited.

The rationale for this was clear: the professional skills of policy staff from the head office meant they were best equipped to be able to have influence at this critical meeting. The credibility of an international NGO with a name that opens doors means being able to get in to see government ministers from many countries in one go; no need for any coaching for staff who are experienced in international summits.

But what about empowerment and participation? These ideas it seems were ideals. They could be met by making sure that partner organisations were consulted and, as long as some non-European/North American activists were included in the delegation, then that would suffice. It was too big a risk to allow people without the “right” experience at the top table. The ‘Top Table’ is a club that is exclusive to those well versed in an elite language, who are comfortable with each other and therefore able to do business. And the end justifies the means.

It is this kind of well-meaning but highly conservative and anti-progressive attitude that jaded my views of the international NGO sector. INGOs have a vested interest in holding on to power and their talk of bottom up development, empowerment and participation is just that – talk.

Joining NCB a year or so after this I was excited by the charity’s reputation for convening. From the Council for Disabled Children, which brings together more than 200 organisations representing children and young people and their families as well as professionals, to the Lambeth Early Action Partnership (LEAP), a partnership between the local authority, health authorities, practitioners and parents.

NCB is putting into practice empowerment and participation principles. Structures and processes like parent/carer forums provide an outlet for the numerous frustrations felt by those trying to get decent services for their children. LEAP’s co-creation by parents and practitioners of programmes to support parenting and early childhood development empowers the service users.

It was at the recent Future of Doing Good event that some of these ideas really came together for me. Funders, social enterprises, SMEs, NGOs, public bodies – the power holders – were in one room talking about the difference we can make.

Three things came out of it for me:

  • NGOs can be a channel for constituents to transmit their anger, not mute it or pacify it but express it constructively.
  • Funders are anxious about the risks involved in handing money to less established, emergent community-based organisations. Therefore there is a role for NGOs that have the systems and processes in place to mitigate the risk by providing the financial and reporting controls, but not get in the way.
  • No organisation should ever talk about empowerment until they are actually prepared to give some of their own power away.

The group with the greatest power can only empower the group with the least power by giving some – if not all – of their power away. And if you really believe that those from the poorest communities in the world have the right to be heard then support them in their efforts to organise – but don’t get in the way.

Are charities and civil society organisations doing enough to transfer their power to their service users? Who is best placed to do good? Do the largest NGO’s have a monopoly on doing good?

Let us know your thoughts by commenting below. Tweet at @AnnaFeuchtwang / @NCBtweets / #FutureGood or if you’d like to write a blog email your ideas to media@ncb.org.uk.






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Brexit: A young person’s perspective

by websupport June 28, 2016

Niklas McKerrell (17), one of NCB’s young research advisors, gives his take on the EU referendum.

An undemocratic democracy. This was the paradox I and many other young people across the UK faced early on Thursday morning as it became clear that the UK had chosen to leave the EU.

Whilst the process for this decision was unequivocally democratic and fair, young people were outraged at the result, a result which they had not voted for or desired. 75% of young people aged 18-24 who voted chose to remain in the EU, whilst those under-18 who couldn’t vote took to social media to express their desire to remain in the EU.

Compare this with the fact that 61% of over-65s had voted to leave the EU, it became clear that people much older than us had decided our futures for us - a future of adversity, uncertainty and division.

So why was a ‘remain’ result so important to young people? Economically, remaining in the EU secures our access to education and jobs in the future. Free movement between the 27 member states means we can learn, work and set up businesses in Barcelona, Paris, Marseille and Madrid. Closer to home, it ensures that large European firms which have benefited as a result of free movement and trade provided by EU membership continue to reside in the UK; companies whom we can work for.  

Culturally, free movement has attracted people of hundreds of different cultures and nationalities, which have helped to shape the areas we live in and who we are as people. In London alone, there are over 270 nationalities and over 300 languages spoken. As a result, young people become well-rounded, having the opportunity to encounter new languages, cultures and food, creating a generation of young people who are more open-minded and diverse.

Finally, choosing remain represents unity. Young people in the UK have been responsible for spearheading many campaigns of ‘togetherness’- from Gay Pride movements to the Refugee Welcome March - and a choice to leave the EU would have gone against the ideology of young people that these campaigns have proven; coming together is always a better alternative to staying apart.

Despite the anger, frustration and hopelessness that many young people across the UK have felt because of the result, I think that it is important to take some hope from the campaign as a whole. The fact that the young people who voted, voted unanimously for an outcome that represents progression, unity and forward-thinking suggests the capability of our generation as a whole not to succumb to the scaremongering and lying tactics of politicians, and decide our own futures. When this generation comes of age and replaces the positions of these same politicians, rather than mimicking their own tactics of scaremongering and deceit, I believe that the politicians of our generation will reflect the progressiveness that we have shown in this referendum.

I hope that this prospect will inspire many who are tired and dismayed by the current state of UK politics on all sides. It is important to look to the future, rather than dwell on the shortcomings of the past.


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Seven actions the government must take to meet the children's rights challenge...and a job for the voluntary sector

by websupport June 20, 2016

Policy makers still have work to do to improve children’s rights in the UK, argues Zoe Renton.

On the 9th of June, the UN delivered its verdict on the UK’s record on children’s rights, stating it was "seriously concerned at the effects that recent fiscal policies and allocation of resources have had in contributing to inequality in children’s enjoyment of their rights.”

While the UN Committee saw signs of progress since it examined the UK almost 8 years ago, there was a clear message that the UK governments are falling short of the mark when it comes to ensuring all children enjoy the human rights afforded to them under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Here are seven actions we think the government must take to begin to address the children’s rights challenge. 

1.     Put child poverty at the centre of the ‘life chances’ strategy

The Committee expressed serious concern at the continuing high levels of child poverty in this country, and the disproportionate impact on children already facing challenges such as disabled children and those from ethnic backgrounds. Poverty is one of the major barriers to the fulfilment of children’s rights in this country, so it would be unacceptable if the Prime Minister’s forthcoming ‘life chances’ strategy (and the measures used to assess progress) failed to put child poverty at its core. 

2.     Exempt all children and pregnant women from health service charges

The health inequalities facing children in this country is a focus of the Committee’s report, with a recommendation that the government develop a comprehensive strategy for tackling health inequalities, particularly for migrant children. NCB’s report on public health services for refugee and migrant young children highlights the deterrent effect of charges for secondary (and in the future, primary) health services. The government must exempt children and pregnant women from all health charges, whatever their immigration status

3.     Get children out of police custody

It was welcome that the Committee expressed concern about the numbers of children locked up in police cells, telling government to get a move on with plans to prohibit the use of police custody for children in mental health crisis, as recommended by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Children, supported by NCB. At the same time, the government must publish and promote its promised Concordat on the duty to transfer of children from police custody to local authority accommodation, and address the legal loophole that means that some children aren’t covered by this duty.

4.     Give mental health support to looked after children and care leavers

The Committee called for rigorous CAMHS strategies which pay particular attention to children in care. The government has an opportunity with its Children and Social Work Bill to put the needs of children in care at the heart of health commissioning; its new corporate parenting principles should apply to clinical commissioning groups and NHS England, as well as local authorities.

5.     Make PSHE and sex and relationships education statutory

A welcome recommendation from the Committee – echoing calls made by NCB, the Children’s Commissioner, Chief Medical Officer and leading Parliamentarians – was for mandatory sex and relationships education in all schools. Young people tell us time and again that they want better teaching on the essential topics covered within PSHE including sex and relationships, physical and mental health and bullying, so government must heed this call.

6.     Ensure no child is placed inappropriately in an in-patient assessment and treatment unit

The Committee told government it needs to put human rights at the heart of its strategy for disabled children and young people. An immediate first step would be to take action to reduce the numbers of children with learning disabilities living in an assessment and treatment unit. There are 165 such children, often placed far from home, with many experiencing hands-on restraint or seclusion. These children must be able to get the care and support they need in their local community.

7.     Establish a cross-government focus on children's rights

The Committee wants to see children’s rights at the heart of government decision-making. A cabinet-level children’s minister must be appointed to see this through, implementing a cross-government action plan to deliver on the Committee’s recommendations.

8.     And finally, one for the organisations working to improve children's lives through policy and legislative change

We must keep the UN Committee’s concluding observations alive, not put them in a box until 2022. We must use the Committee's findings and recommendations in our own advocacy and influencing work. We must tirelessly remind the UK government of their obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and shine a light when those obligations are not being met, or indeed being trampled upon.

Zoe Renton is Head of Policy at the National Children’s Bureau.


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Boys are behind in school

by Richard Newson June 6, 2016

Boys are lagging behind in education – we are beginning to understand why, says Anna Feuchtwang.

We’ve known for some time that something in the education system isn’t working for boys. In primary, secondary and now, as a new report from the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) confirms, in university education too, boys are lagging behind their female classmates. After centuries of men taking the lion’s share of university places, UCAS now estimates that women are 35% more likely to get a place on a degree course in the UK than a man. And if current trends continue unchecked, things will get significantly worse for boys born today.

There are caveats to the HEPI findings that lessen the impact. For a start, if degrees that traditionally favour women such as teaching and nursing were removed from the calculations the bias towards girls would be considerably less pronounced. Furthermore, girls may be choosing to study for a degree to mitigate against the significant disadvantage they will face in terms of salary and advancement when they start work. It is right that education plays its part to help girls overcome these obstacles.  The fact also remains that if the tables were turned and we were talking about over 45,000 fewer girls getting degrees in the UK (and that’s just using data from 2011) there would be more questions asked.

The difference in attainment between boys and girls is certainly not a priority for the government. The white paper ‘Educational excellence everywhere’ focuses much more attention on addressing inequality in education related to poverty than gender. Of course this is a worthy aim; NCB’s own ‘Greater Expectations’ research has shown how growing up in a poor household can erode a child’s education, making them far less likely to achieve a good level of development at age 4, to achieve well at school age 11 or do well in their GCSEs at 16 compared to a child from the most well-off backgrounds. But making no mention of gender imbalances in education may come to be seen as short-sighted.

What is causing boys to falter is complicated to unpick. The HEPI research shows that ethnicity is linked to attainment in university, with young white men from poor backgrounds at the bottom of the pile. Only 10% of young white men from the most disadvantaged backgrounds enter into higher education, compared to 60% of young men with Chinese heritage.

Neurological differences also play their part. While the report concludes that while the difference between girls’ and boys’ brains may have been overstated in the past, it is a factor. During adolescence, boys’ brains tend to undergo a neurological shift to a more efficient way of wiring the brain later than girls.

And then there are societal influences. At the heart of these concerns is that boys are faring less well because they lack positive male role models around them as they grow up. We know that in the UK approximately 1 in 4 families are single-parent families, and of these, nearly a woman will head 90%.

This disparity is echoed within the school workforce where women teachers are predominant in schools. However, there is no conclusive evidence that increasing the number of male teachers would raise attainment amongst boys. One study in England found that women teachers are fairer in the way they treat different gender groups and less likely to be influenced by whether a pupils is a boy or a girl.

Whether these differences arise due to nature or nurture, the disparity in outcomes cannot be ignored. In an NCB study of boys’ attitudes to health, conducted in response to the fact that men are more likely to die prematurely of health conditions that should affect both sexes equally, we concluded that the solutions could only be brought about by multi-pronged interventions involving policy-makers, health professionals, parents, teachers, and, crucially, boys themselves. The solution to boy’s poor performance in education will require a similar breadth of action.

Here, we would do well to remind ourselves that the aim of education isn’t just improving crude output measures - like holding a degree certificate - but in building the capabilities of boys so they can thrive in an education system which may be at odds with some of their characteristics. A challenge for our current thinking on education is that boys deserve equality too.


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The autism wellbeing debate

by Richard Newson May 19, 2016

Jack Welch calls for better understanding of how autism can affect a young person’s wellbeing.

Improving wider public understanding of autism is an uphill struggle. In a survey by the National Autistic Society, just 16% of people with autism and their families believe the public have a clear grasp of what the condition is, despite high awareness of the name alone.

Here in lies the problem. Common behaviours like meltdowns, poor communication skills and anxiety in unfamiliar environments might be assumed as autistic traits for someone who is diagnosed with the condition, but if the public has little knowledge of what autism is, how can these behaviours be distinguished from what might be a serious underlying mental health problem?

Being on the spectrum myself, I’ve faced the challenge of being misunderstood as I grew up. I was educated at a mainstream school, so I was not always open about what the realities of having autism meant to me, seeing as my peers would probably have little knowledge of it themselves. However, the consequences of ‘bottling up’ my emotions, especially when I was targeted by bullies, meant I did not always deal with situations as I should, and would often lead to outbursts of anger or tears.

I shared these experience with a mixed audience of professionals and parents of children who were also on the spectrum at this year’s Cerebra Annual Conference. The event focused on improving mental health support for young people with autism, ADHD and other learning disabilities. As part of Young NCB, I supported a presentation alongside NCB’s Director of Research, Cathy Street, and fellow representative Kiri Joliffe.

I highlighted NCB’s participation work in engaging young people in mental health events, including last year’s ‘Growing-Up Happy’ conference and focus groups with the DfE and IPPR. These events were successful because they included participants from a range of backgrounds, rather than just those with bad experiences in mental health. They also kept the atmosphere relaxed whenever possible, with plenty of breaks and did not demand that we share personal stories if we didn’t want to.

A Q&A with the audience at the end of the Cerebra event, at times, became particularly emotive. It was apparent that many schools are failing to provide the right support for young people moving from education into employment. The damaging impact on mental wellbeing for both parents and children was all too clear.

There are efforts being made to have a better comprehension of the relationship between mental health and autism; there is strong evidence that those who have the condition are more likely than most to encounter problems. At least 40% of young people with the condition will have two or more mental health issues at some point, and might have other learning disabilities too.

Research to improve prevention services and the treatment of those with neurological conditions, was strongly supported by the personal stories shared at the conference. But within the environments which could help children and young people the most, schools and CAMHS services, there are often more signs of weakness than of effective, well-planned interventions. Most would agree with a call for change, but there are still many obstacles to putting that into action.

Jack Welch is a member of Young NCB.  To find out about joining visit: http://youngncb.org.uk/opportunities/would-you-like-to-join-ncb’s-young-research-advisors-group!.aspx


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Dementia epidemic hits young carers

by Richard Newson April 14, 2016

With the number of young people caring for an adult with dementia expected to rise, Emily Hamblin looks at what we know about them, and their experiences and needs.

Dementia is a major challenge to the nation’s health. With an ageing population, dementia prevalence is increasing, and with it, the number of unpaid carers. As young adults are increasingly living at home with their parents, the number of young adults caring for parents with dementia is expected to increase too.

Read our report.

There are also 40,000 people with young onset dementia, many of whom will have children living with or near them.

But what is known about children and young people under the age of 25 who provide regular and ongoing care and emotional support for a person living with dementia? Public Health England asked us to look into what is known about this group of young carers.

Worryingly, we don’t know exactly how many young people are caring for adults with dementia. There is also only limited evidence about how caring for someone with dementia impacts on children and young people, and how the needs of these young carers can best be met.

Young people caring for adults with dementia represent a small proportion of both dementia carer and young carer populations. Many do not access professional support despite being legally entitled to it. In common with many children and young people supporting individuals with other conditions, some do not identify as 'young carers' at all, so may not use young carers' services.

Dementia services also struggle to meet the needs of young people and their families. Given that the average age of unpaid family carers is 60-65, and that people with young onset dementia represent only 5-9% of all people with dementia in the UK – the focus is very much on helping older people. No practice guidance for professionals supporting these children and young people was identified in our research, nor were any tailored services or formalised networks for individuals aged under 18 supporting adults with dementia.

In addition to the challenges affecting young carers generally, young people caring for adults with dementia also have to deal with sudden mood and behaviour changes in the person they are caring for, loss of support and care from a parent with young onset dementia, and considerable strain on relationships with the person with dementia and other family members.

Young people respond to these situations in different ways. They may grieve for the person with dementia as they used to be, suppress their own needs for fear of burdening other family members, or engage in self-destructive behaviours. Whilst there can be positive aspects to young people caring for others, research shows that young carers often experience worse outcomes than their peers in terms of health, wellbeing, education and income.

Given the strain faced by young people caring for adults with dementia, statutory bodies and organisations should use and create opportunities to raise awareness about this group. Tailored information should be provided to children and young people providing care and support, and existing services should become more sensitive to the needs of families in which young people are supporting adults with dementia. Young people also need support to connect with others who share some of their experiences.

The hidden numbers of young people caring for adults with dementia deserve to get the support they need so their own lives and relationships aren’t undermined by the responsibilities they shoulder.

Read NCB's report Young people caring for adults with dementia in England.

Emily Hamblin is Senior Development Officer at the National Children's Bureau.



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Lost in the woods – training for the marathon

by Richard Newson April 4, 2016

Our epic London marathon runner Rozzie Simpson, shares her thoughts on ‘splits’, toilet breaks and saying goodbye to your toenails.

My mum, Elaine Simpson is the chair of NCB and I am so proud to be contributing in my little way to this charity that is such a vital force for good.

I’m a 21 year old medical student, studying in Sheffield. I’ve got two and a bit years left before I qualify as a doctor I’m currently taking a year out to do a research project on chest trauma. 

I’ve loved running since I was 15, but up until a year ago, I couldn’t go further than 5k. I was a heavy teenager, and carrying a lot of weight meant longer distances were just beyond me. But then I lost four stone, and to my delight, I realized I could run further than before. Every time I ran a bit longer I dreamed a bit bigger. I set my sights my first marathon: London, the best race in the world. I feel so privileged to be running it for such a great cause.

Sponsor Rozzie.

I’m four weeks out from the big day and have been training in earnest for 12 weeks. That’s 60 runs, 409 miles and over two and a half days on the road. I’ve run in every storm from Gertrude to Katie and they’ve failed to dampen my enthusiasm. Far from it, I’ve gone completely running mad. I wake up planning runs, I bore everybody to death talking about trainers and if anybody stays still long enough I insist on showing them my latest “splits” (a breakdown of the paces I’ve run for each mile).

My longest training run (21 miles) is now safely under my belt. It’s a very different beast to those 5k slogs I used to do; what was once a simple matter of lacing up and heading out now needs a whole lot of planning. You’ve got to think about hydration, nutrition, toilet breaks and routes. If you’re out running for half an hour, not very much is going to happen to you. If you’re out there for three hours or more, it becomes an adventure. I’ve got lost in the woods, scared ramblers, tried to sneak into a pub for a wee and realized its’ actually a very fancy restaurant, heard gunshots and convinced myself a passing van driver was trying to murder me to name just a few incidents.

What I’m starting to lack in the toenail department, I make up for in determination. I’m so excited that my solitary sport could help somebody else through donations, so please sponsor me. I’ll need all the encouragment I can get come April 24th!

Sponsor Rozzie and support our work with children at: http://m.virginmoneygiving.com/mt/uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserPage.action?userUrl=RozzieSimpson&faId=660834&isTeam=false&un_jtt_redirect=un_jtt_iosV




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How the law protects disabled children’s rights to ordinary lives

by Richard Newson March 7, 2016

Steve Broach, a barrister specialising in the law applying to children and disabled people, looks at how legal rights can be used to protect young people’s quality of life.

Disabled children’s rights to the support they need to lead ordinary lives are under threat.

The next round of cuts to local authority budgets will result in services for vulnerable children below the child protection threshold shrinking, in some areas almost to vanishing point. For example, Community Care magazine recently reported one impact assessment for the cuts taking place in Newcastle as resulting in the ‘increased targeting of residual services on only the most vulnerable’, including that unmet support needs will result in a requirement for more specialist services.

It is at times like the present that the law may have the greatest relevance. The law is about establishing minimums – baselines in terms of both processes to be followed and services to be provided.

When money was flowing into the system, for example under the Aiming High for Disabled Children programme in the late 2000s, the law can take more of a back seat. But when times are tough it is vital that everyone in the system understands the legal entitlements of disabled children, young people and families.

For example, the requirement to provide a sufficient level of short break care under the Breaks for Carers of Disabled Children Regulations 2011 is vital when research from the Every Disabled Child Matters campaign shows that these services are under threat.

It is in this spirit that we have produced the second edition of Disabled Children: A Legal Handbook, written by a team of specialist lawyers. The Handbook aims to give everyone – disabled young people, parents, professionals and legal advisors – clear guidance on the legal requirements across core areas such as education, children’s services, health and housing.