Quarterly Newsletter – September 2013

The September issue of the Improving Futures Evaluation and Learning quarterly newsletter is available to download below.

If you have any news items you would like to submit please send them to improvingfutures@uk.ecorys.com.

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Click here to download the quarterly newsletter – September 2013.


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Labour pledges to increase free childcare

Labour have pledged to create funding for three- and four-year-olds’ childcare if voted into power at the next general election.

Speaking at the Labour Conference, shadow chancellor Ed Balls said that free childcare placements for three- and four-year-olds would increase from 15 hours to 25 hours. The fund would be covered by raising the bank levy to £800m annually. The levy was put in place in agreement with the UK, Germany and France to make banks accountable for their part in the on-going economic crisis, but Labour claims that the current levy falls short of what was expected.

Under the new arrangements, childcare funding would be made available in all four nations but only ring-fenced in England. The governments of Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland would be free to choose to use the fund in the same way. The pledge specifies that the fund is for working parents.

The proposed fund represents an attempt to reinstate money lost to parents under the current government – claimed to be £1,500 per year – and would be made available to households where all parents are in work, including single parents and couples.

Speaking to the importance of giving parents an opportunity to work full or part time without having to worry about the costs of childcare, Mr Balls said “Childcare is a vital part of our economic infrastructure that, alongside family support and flexible working, should give parents the choice to stay at home with their children when they are very small and to balance work and family as they grow older.”

Perhaps anticipating a reaction to the proposal, the shadow chancellor has publicly requested that the Office for Budget Responsibility look into his plans and assess their viability – as parents, and those working in the family sector begin to challenge claims made by political parties, this pre-emptive move may be an indication not only of how the next election is likely to be contested, but of the role parents will play.

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Practitioners urged to express abuse concerns following Pelka case

A Serious Case Review into the death of four-year-old Daniel Pelka has brought up the issue of how practitioners should voice their concerns about neglect or abuse.

The parents of Daniel Pelka, who died in March 2012 following months of starvation and physical abuse, were found guilty of murder in July 2013. A Serious Case Review (SCR) found that many of his injuries and symptoms were unknown by the professionals working with him. Seriously underweight and, suffering from facial injuries and a broken arm, the seriousness of Daniel’s case passed by a number of professionals who were deceived by his mother’s stories.

Although no charges or blame have been made against any particular organisation, the case report suggested that professionals had been overly optimistic in their assessments and had allowed themselves to accept the positive image being presented, rather than questioning the excuses offered.

A number of professionals involved in the case, including teachers, health visitors and social workers, as well as medical staff and police, did not have a full and clear picture of Daniel’s life and the abuse he received. Ron Lock, who wrote the SCR report, has recognised that a busy workload may be partly responsible for the reassurance felt by those involved at the time, but has urge practitioners to be bolder and more inquiring, trusting their instincts wherever there is a suspicion of abuse.

Key findings from the SCR show that the police were called to the house 26 times but that excuses made by Daniel’s mother were taken as truth and not questioned further. The report also raises a question that Daniel’s own voice was not heard, possibly because English was not his first language. There were no records of conversations with Daniel himself.

Reactions to the case have urged for greater sharing of information between agencies, in order not to miss opportunities for interventions. With more information being shared, professionals can have a better chance of building a complete picture of a child’s life with an increased likelihood of recognising potential danger and taking advantage of chances to intervene, such as hospital visits and police call-outs. The report also calls for a more consistent and holistic approach to domestic abuse cases – a failure to listen to Daniel may have contributed to the lack of knowledge about his low confidence and the reasons behind his injuries.

Coventry Council’s chief executive Martin Reeves has stated that he is keen to avoid a witch hunt against professionals and that lessons must be learned from Daniel’s case. The local NHS is already working to treble the number of health visitors in Coventry, which previously had one of the lowest proportions in the country.

Ultimately, the responsibility of Daniel’s death lies with his parents, but professionals are being asked to probe deeper in future, trust their instincts, and challenge excuses being made in cases where there is concern.

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Poor parents struggling to access children’s centres

A report from The Children’s Society has warned that early intervention budget cuts are creating barriers to disadvantaged parents accessing children’s centres.

Over the course of the first half of the current decade the Early Intervention Grant, which funds children’s centres, is being cut from £3bn to £1.5bn, representing a 50% cut between 2010 and 2015. The Children’s Centre report, titled “Breaking Barriers”, urges ministers to put a stop to further cuts to the grant and to initiate ring-fencing to protect children’s centres’ budgets.

A quarter of the 170 parents surveyed for the report said that they had difficulties in accessing their local children’s centres. All of these were living in deprived areas and many cited that centres were not within “pram-pushing distance”, one of the criteria behind the original Sure Start project. Poor families in more rural areas cited travel costs as another barrier to accessing centres.

The report also presents information from staff at children’s centres who said that poor information sharing from other local services made it difficult for them to maintain awareness of available services for many disadvantaged families.

In an effort to continue and strengthen the early intervention work carried out by children’s centres, The Children’s Society is calling on local authorities to review the locations of their centres and ensure that they are accessible to poorer families.

The report shows that budget cuts are affecting centres’ capacity to hire staff that can help disadvantaged families to access services, such as outreach workers and service providers who can deliver in languages other than English. Of the parents surveyed whose first language was not English, most were not even aware that their local centre existed.

As centres find themselves facing a struggle to continue providing universal services, many have also expressed concerns that they are now having to charge for services that used to be free, creating further barriers for poorer families and further undermining the idea of a universal service.

Read “Breaking Barriers” (The Children’s Society).

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Child poverty has not improved in 50 years, warns NCB report

A report published by the National Children’s Bureau (NCB) shows that more children are living in poverty today than 50 years ago and that outcomes for poorer children have not improved.

The report, “Greater Expectations: Raising aspirations for our children” examines 12 key indicators to assess the state of child poverty in Britain today, and compares the results to those of two historical studies to assess what changes have been made.

In its early years, the NCB published two significant reports, based on a ground-breaking multi-disciplinary longitudinal study of children born in 1958. The reports, “Born to Fail” (1972) and “Children in Adversity” (1982) both examined key poverty indicators, drawing links between childhood poverty and social and economic disadvantages such as poor health and difficulty at school.

“Greater Expectations”, this year’s report, has found that conditions have hardly improved in the last 50 years and may even have become worse. The report found that the number of children living in poverty has increased by 1.5 million since 1963. Not only this, but these children’s life chances remain diminished, with children living in poorer areas less likely to do well in their GCSEs, more likely to be obese and much less likely to have access to green open spaces.

The report goes into detail about how the persistence of poverty and inequality affects outcomes in the early years and throughout school and looks at examples from other countries to see how the UK could improve. In comparison to other European nations with similar levels of poverty, the UK’s child population is faring particularly poorly. In Denmark, for example, the proportion on children living in poverty is 3.7% compared to 12.5% in the UK. Bringing the UK into line with Denmark’s performance would allow nearly one million children to be freed from the negative effects of growing up in poverty.

The report notes a positive trend in early years enrolment for UK children with around 40% of under-threes and 80% of three-year-olds now attending early years education, exceeding the average for developed nations. However, other European nations have much higher rates of enrolment with France and Belgium boasting 100% turnout for three-year-olds. The report notes that matching this rate in the UK would mean an additional 300,000 children attending early years settings.

In its recommendations following the report’s conclusions, the NCB has expressed the need for a Children and Young People’s Board to help create a cross-party strategy for reducing child poverty; and an annual impact report to disclose how the Chancellor’s budget will affect inequality and child poverty each year.

To read the full report, register your email address here (NCB).

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