The Big Society ‘has forgotten children’, says right-wing think tank

Children and their families are at risk of being overlooked by the government’s Big Society and localism agenda, according to a report by a right-wing think-tank.

The research by ResPublica for Action for Children highlights the progress made over the last two decades on family policy, but says too little has been done to put children at the centre of the vision for communities. It argues that developing trusted relationships and networks for children and young people is fundamental to their development, wellbeing and safety. Social capital for children and young people can keep children safe, transform neighbourhoods, break intergenerational cycles of neglect and deprivation and prevent problems escalating.

The report goes on to criticise the closures of parks, play schemes and community projects by local authorities, suggesting that the Government should protect important local facilities and give children the right to challenge decisions that affect them.

Dame Clare Tickell, Chief Executive of Action for Children commented: “The Big Society agenda must have the next generation at its heart if it is to have a future. It is essential that solutions for children, young people and families are part of wider and serious attempts to rebuild communities, and create ‘social capital’ for people who might otherwise live isolated and vulnerable lives. We risk missing an opportunity to address some of the critical problems faced by our most vulnerable children – and therefore by all of us.”

The report says that the collapse in social capital is a modern Western phenomenon. It states: “Only in recent centuries and in developed countries have family units become small and isolated. Family members are more likely to live apart in different homes, or different parts of the country as people have become are more mobile.”

It says that if the Government is serious about tackling these problems it must learn the lessons from successful projects in the US and UK, which focus on building social capital. The report also says that the current economic climate is no excuse for failing to act.

It concludes by recommending that the Government should back inter-generational projects, which tackle the ‘widespread mistrust’ between the generations and spread the task of parenting into the community, in line with the idea of a village raising a child.

The key recommendations from the report are: – Ensure that the new Community Organiser programme for England includes a focus on children and young people within their local communities, and on reaching people in the most isolated and deprived communities. This must include specific success measures for the programme as a whole, to increase children’s wellbeing, and to ensure organisers themselves receive training in how to achieve results for children and young people.

– Pilot a number of large-scale and comprehensive community building projects, as detailed in this report, with the specific aim of keeping children safe through the development of social capital and preventing the need for acute and crisis intervention.

– Ensure that the roll-out and success measures of the National Citizens Service are based on the success of providers in keeping young people safe through the development of community focussed social capital, particularly within areas of deprivation.

– Extend the ‘right to challenge’ within the localism and public service reform agendas, to give opportunities and support for children and young people to challenge and influence local planning and spending decisions that affect them.

– In revising the framework of statutory guidance for local authorities, take steps to ensure that local assets that keep children safe and develop social capital, such as parks, playgrounds and children’s centres, are retained.

Anne Longfield, Chief Executive of 4Children, commented: ”There are enormous benefits to be gained from helping families and communities to come together and do more for themselves and each other. Research for our latest campaign, Give Me Strength, found a huge 91% of people were keen to provide help to families who are struggling to cope, but all too often no one asks them and they are too nervous of interfering. We need to capture this goodwill, to turn this generosity of spirit into action.

“Strengthening existing structures and developing existing programmes will provide some benefit, but only a new vision that engages with people’s untapped generosity is going to transform society into the kind of place we want our children to grow up in.”

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