Last night a wide range of friends and supporters of Children England gathered to toast our 75th birthday as a charity, and to embark on the ambitious journey we’ve set ourselves in our 76th year. It was a great evening, shot through with a shared sense of urgent purpose, and how much we have yet to do if we are to stick to our charitable mission and keep children at heart in our society.

We believe it’s time to review the Welfare State as Beveridge and Attlee first crafted it in the 1940s, gathering together everything we’ve learnt since: from Abraham Maslow’s heirarchy of needs; the advance of human rights (both 1953); children’s rights as citizens in their own right (1989); to a wealth of critical analysis of the impacts of major policy changes and reforms to the nation’s benefits, housing, health and education systems by successive governments (such as the internal market in the NHS, or the spread of conditionality in social welfare policy.)

If that task sounds really complicated, academic or perhaps too ambitious to you, believe me, I understand why! And if you think Children England already has clever answers that nobody else has, or we already have ‘innovations’ for reforming our welfare state from scratch, then I can assure you we don’t! We know there is a wealth of activity and expertise out there in the voluntary and public sectors, in academia and activism, and many are already engaged in exciting ‘rethinking’ projects. We want to learn from and synthesise all that wisdom.

The reason we’ve decided to do this inquiry is because we listen closely to everything we hear from our members about the realities facing children and families, and from all our wider sector colleagues - not just in children’s services and youth services but in the housing sector, in welfare and benefits advice, in the environmental movement and new economics, in the schools sector and the NHS. We hear the same themes and undercurrents coming through in all those different sectors – “it’s not just about the money, our systems are fundamentally broken and too often, despite all our best intentions and beliefs, they do more harm than good to the people who need them”.  We can’t, in good conscience, hear those messages time and time again and campaign only for more public investment for our particular sector silos in the belief that will solve it.

Just as Maslow’s levels of human need are interdependent, so are all our different sectors and systems. We know that children’s social care reform cannot work without reducing child poverty – so we must also know that more money for the NHS cannot solve all its problems if the housing and social care systems continue to fail the people they treat. So let’s all join together, share experience and ideas with each other, and get ‘back to Maslow basics’ to work out what our public services and systems were meant to do, why they don’t, and how they could again!

We also know there are already many great examples of practices that offer inspiring glimpses of what it could mean to put all people’s needs for home, security, loving relationships, good health and self-determined purpose at heart.  For example, in the health service we see revolutionary potential in the Buurtzog example from the Netherlands, which offers people a single, reliable open-ended relationship with a well-qualified, caring, holistic community nurse - rather than being visited by and sent to an array of different specialists, none of whom see or get to know them as a whole person. We want to explore what we can learn from them, and how it could work for children and families in a redesigned system in Britain. Closer to home, what about the inspiring example of ‘Love Barrow Families’ – a team of public sector professionals who turned the very name and mission of the ‘Troubled Families Initiative’ on its head, so that rather than judging, controlling or pathologising the families they serve they proclaimed their commitment to show them love, to respect and nurture their home and family life, and to help families be safe and loving places for all family members.

Thanks to the groundswell of moral and financial support we’ve received so far from our fellow citizens and charities, today we are launching our open request for you to help us by sharing ideas, expertise and insights from your own lives, your families, friends and communities, and your experiences of receiving or delivering public and charitable services. You don’t have to write us an essay, or have answers that solve everything already! If you’ve got a concrete example of policy or practice that is delivering holistically on people's needs, or failing to do so, we want to hear from you – and from the children and young people you work with. We’ve got forms, questions and activity plans to help you do that!

We believe that if we can create the kind of caring state that offers the right conditions for every child to grow and develop, those very same systems, policies and conditions will benefit every member of society. Whatever our adult lives involve - whether we become parents, foster carers, adopters, or none of those things -  we are all united by the universality of starting out in life as a child. Childhood is our universal human condition and however long we each live, our childhoods will always remain the oldest part of who we are. As Maslow was keen to emphasise, there is no age or stage of life when we don’t all need home, safety and security, love and belonging, health and purpose in life. Living in a nurturing society that makes itself the best place for all children to live and grow will therefore nurture and respect all of our ‘inner children’, at every stage of our lives.