It's been a while since I updated you about the progress of the ChildFair State Inquiry, but that's not been for any lack of activity by our Young Leaders. Most of us as organisations and as individuals have a sense of continuing in limbo, while covid restrictions have continued long into 2021, and normal work plans and regular activities haven’t yet fully resumed. It's a period in which we've all had to feel our way forward, adapting plans that might never have been made to work in such a limbo - but that's all the more reason to be proud to tell you more about the progress and developing ideas for taking our Young Leaders' ChildFair State visions and principles to new audiences and stages.

The ChildFair State Inquiry has certainly taken a shape I wouldn’t have predicted as lockdown was announced last March. Leaders Unlocked helped our Young Leaders move interviews and workshops online so swiftly and smoothly that the main activities of the Inquiry didn’t lose any momentum. The research itself, as you can read on our website, produced as rich a picture as we could have hoped for - and the Young Leaders even reported participants engaging more deeply in online sessions, where talking to strangers is less intimidating than meeting them face to face. The Young Leaders, supported by the Sounding Board, developed principles and approaches for ChildFair services and communities that deserve celebration and discussion across the public sphere. But with a ban on gatherings, and our online meetings going so well, we suspended plans for a formal ‘launch’ of last year’s work and carried on with the next core stage of the Inquiry - starting conversations with groups of stakeholders the Young Leaders were keen to talk to.

We’re very much hoping to bring the Young Leaders together again in person after the summer holidays - as much to re-connect and celebrate their work as to produce any more - but for now we’re sticking with online collaboration. 

So what have we done in 2021 so far? 

At this point you can click through to a blog by Young Leader Lauren on the latest activities of the ChidFair State Inquiry - or you can stick with me!

A full meeting of the Young Leaders early in the year showed there was lots of enthusiasm for both policy development within the visions they’d started creating last year and for developing a public campaign to engage various audiences in exploring and testing what ChildFair practices and policies could look like at local and national levels. We’re now searching for the right partners to help the Young Leaders create their campaign, which they’re adamant must be a live and inclusive community, not a static platform of recommendations.

This week we’re still grinning with pride about the evidence communicated with such insight and eloquence by two Young Leaders to the House of Lords Public Services Committee for their inquiry into services for vulnerable children. Never without their big picture view of the welfare state, the Young Leaders told me as we prepared for it: often it’s the system itself that makes children vulnerable and powerless. We need to design systems that share power and treat children with respect. 

That session with parliamentary stakeholders is the latest in a range of external presentations and discussions, including with other charities, our own beloved NHS and a group of leading children's professionals, government officials and academics in Finland. At every meeting the Young Leaders’ findings and proposals were received with respect and curiosity, and provided a rich ground for mutual sharing of practice and ideas. The Young Leaders responded thoughtfully to searching questions, drawing on their research last year and adding to their analysis what they’re learning from meeting new audiences and from new developments in social policy as the pandemic continues. 

At the start of the Inquiry, the Young Leaders looked to Finland as a source of inspiration on issues like education and welfare. The Finnish audience confirmed that the Young Leaders’ visions are now providing inspiration in return. 

Each group of professionals, whether statutory or voluntary sector, has given us hope with their warm welcome of the ChildFair State’s direction that there is not only a great need for a new vision of child-centred services but a groundswell of supportive people who already share the Young Leaders’ principles, and whose work is already testing and tending towards some of their goals. Young Leaders were particularly excited to hear from GPs in north London that they’re trialling the hosting of health workers in youth centres, and breaking down the silos between youth-friendly spaces and healthcare that create a barrier for young people who need help. If we’re to change the welfare state so radically, it can’t be as a lone group or campaign - we each need to support and reinforce others on the same journey, and young people themselves are the best - the only - people to keep us on the right path.

Children England member organisations have responded in wonderfully collaborative spirit, offering connections to their practice and people that will help us develop and test ChildFair ideas further, and inspiring us to imagine a time in the not-too-distant future when ‘the ChildFair State’ isn’t a Children England project but a shared vision across communities, owned by young people and supported by a network of champions. For the moment, we’re excited to know we can bring members and Young Leaders together regularly to explore ChildFair policy and practice ideas.

Three Young Leaders shared their own priorities for the ChildFair State with the forum of our members, with our youngest Young Leader Papa helping to start a rich discussion of education. He said afterwards:

The session was quite constructive and did, I feel, bring in some food for thought considering some of our ideas and their practicality by a wide range of people specialising in different areas of welfare. I mainly discussed education, specifically trying to ensure it has students at the heart of the schooling system, and people feeling they were a burden on the NHS.

We’re massively grateful to the Young Leaders who continue to give up their time to champion the ChildFair State, and we’re keen to secure the funding and other partnerships we need to help their leadership move into a campaigning and implementation phase. This includes growing the youth leadership team, creating an interactive digital platform for the ChildFair vision and its communities, and enabling local settings to test out or model ChildFair principles and approaches - whether that’s in a school, a housing association, or a whole local authority. 

If you see a role for yourself or your organisation in the future of the ChildFair State: we’re ready for your call!