Dr Carol Homden, CEO of Coram, Polly Toynbee and Sir Andrew McFarlane
The high profile panellists also included Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England and Polly Toynbee, Guardian journalist and was chaired by Coram’s CEO Dr Carol Homden. The discussion ranged widely, covering topics including migrant children, school exclusions, mental health of young people, Brexit, austerity and children’s social care.
Sir Andrew McFarlane spoke about the importance of problem-solving courts such as FDAC and what more can be done to support parents in difficulties to look after their children. He spoke of how ‘eye-opening’ it was to see how tough life is for families today.
He said: “There are now pressures on families and complications in life that weren’t even there a few years ago. The number of cases coming to the court has gone up, in particular neglect cases where families aren’t coping. Often families are experiencing a cocktail of difficulties and if you are a child in the middle of that, one questions what voice they have and who is speaking up for them.”
Polly Toynbee discussed how families are being ‘tipped over the edge’ in the face of poverty, welfare changes and cuts to legal aid.
Polly said: “We seemed to have reached a point where children come last in all priority areas. Many of the preventative services have closed but if you can catch problems early on in a family, you have so much better a chance of a child staying in their family, getting them into school and getting the family on its feet. If you can make a 20% difference to a child’s trajectory, it can make all the difference between getting by and not getting by.”
Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner agreed that “children are so often an ‘add-on’ in policy” and gave the example that children only get 7% of the mental health budget, despite the fact they are 20% of the population.
Anne said: “I would like children to be at the heart of the plan, whether that be the chancellor’s economic plan, local planning, housing and so on. I would like children to be the starting point and I can’t believe how often this is missed considering they are the next generation coming up. I want our country to be known for putting children at the top.”
Anne also spoke of the growing issue of schools exclusions, with 10,000 temporary exclusions across the UK every week. She said: “We urgently need schools to have a greater expectation and measurement of success around inclusivity of education – a standard for all children.”
Kamena Dorling, Coram’s Head of Policy spoke of the challenges in protecting children’s rights as we leave the EU. She said: “The question is not just about the laws that already exist, but how laws are interpreted and developed, and how we ensure as a country that we continue to develop our protection of children. How do we ensure there is no ‘going backwards’ in children’s rights?”
“Every day Coram sees the gaps between what children’s rights are on paper, and how they are upheld, or not, in reality. We want to see genuine systemic change so that all children’s rights are upheld in all decisions made about them.”