Policy and practice Reports and research England's Children: the manifesto Our manifesto was developed democratically with our member organisations and represents their priorities for children and families from 2015 onwards. Download a PDF of the manifesto poster: England’s Children: a manifesto. There are 35 separate policy calls, grouped into eleven themes: Overarching Vision & Leadership Develop a 10 year cross-departmental vision and national strategy for children which includes an outcomes framework, with clear senior Ministerial leadership and accountability This call incorporates several key aspects of the responsibilities of national government to consider children distinctly within political decision-making. It reinforces the usefulness of outcomes in bringing together different departments and sectors; it essentially asks that improving children’s lives be a well-planned and resourced commitment that outstretches the political cycle and has clear senior leadership in implementing it. Children as Citizens Make all children’s rights under the UNCRC enforceable in English courts by incorporating the UNCRC Some of the rights in the UNCRC are already reflected in the Children Act and Human Rights Act, however there are many of its Articles that are not currently enforceable in our courts at all. The UK has made a commitment under International Law to implement the UNCRC, so it follows that it should be incorporated in our domestic law. Access to Justice Ensure that all children and young people have access to justice through the provision of legal aid, and appropriate skilled advocacy and advice, whenever they need it Children and young people are entitled to expect fair and just legal treatment whenever they are involved in, or affected by any legal proceedings. They also need to be able to take up legal challenge when they have been unfairly treated, and to be appropriately advised and represented by experts who understand their needs and rights as a child. Children have no financial means of their own, and legal aid reforms place many thousands of children at real risk of legal injustice and exclusion from any effective redress. All children under 18 should be entirely exempted from legal aid exclusions. Child Poverty Reduce significantly the number of children living in poverty (in both in-work and out-of-work households) in each consecutive year over the next parliament Increasing levels of child poverty are a clear sign of government failure to protect children from bearing the brunt of austerity and the impacts of national debt. The next administration must show real commitment to halting the trend of increasing child poverty in its first year, and to make significant reductions in each year thereafter. Anything less will mean that any proclaimed economic policy successes or recovery will have come at the expense of children. Age Discrimination End the exclusion of children from the legal right to protection against age discrimination Under current English equalities and human rights law anyone can legally challenge ‘less favourable treatment on grounds of age’, and expect to be protected from it happening in the first place. Anyone, that is, except under 18s. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, in their last concluding observations, said that there is a marked problem here of negative discriminatory attitudes and treatment of children and young people. Benefits and Housing Affordable Housing Scrap the social rented sector size criteria (‘bedroom tax’) and uprate Local Housing Allowance rates in line with local rental inflation to ensure all families can live in affordable homes This proposal seeks to reverse changes to support with housing costs for those in both the social rented sector (affected by the so-called “bedroom tax”) and those in the private rented sector (affected by measures which mean that housing support no longer reflects local rental prices.) Reversing these changes would help to ensure that low income families can afford their home and reduce the risk of arrears or eviction. Child Friendly Cap Remove Child Benefit from the benefit cap The household benefit cap limits benefit payments for non-working families to £500 per week. Although the policy is targeted at cutting support for non-working adults, we know that children are by far the biggest group affected, and are about seven times more likely to be affected by the cap than adults. This proposal would seek to remove Child Benefit from the household benefit cap, in order to reduce the disproportionate impact of the policy on children. Emergency Funds Sustainably fund schemes of local welfare provision for families in emergency needs In April 2013 crisis loans for living expenses were scrapped. These provided interest free loans for families facing financial crisis. These schemes were replaced by new local welfare assistance schemes introduced by local authorities, however, the funding made available was 50% lower than the equivalent support in 2010. Furthermore, DWP has since announced that they will not fund these schemes from 2015 onwards. This proposal recognises the need for this support and seeks to put these schemes on a sound footing by providing them with sustainable funding. Early Years Focussed Funding Move funding to the early years and weight this funding towards the most disadvantaged children in recognition that the first years in a person’s life are the most critical The most effective and cost-effective way to help and support young families is in the earliest years of a child’s life. However, funding is currently skewed towards older age groups. Shifting funding towards younger, disadvantaged children is the best way to stop poor children becoming poor adults. Bridging the Gap Introduce free, flexible, universal childcare from the end of parental leave until school starting age The UK has one of the lowest maternal employment rates in Western Europe. Although good progress has been made with the extension of the free entitlement for two-, three- and four-year olds, there is a still a significant gap for families between the end of parental leave and beginning of school. Vision for the Future Develop a comprehensive, evidence-based early years strategy that covers aims and approaches, funding and CPD The early years are the most crucial in a child’s development. Unfortunately, they have too often been subordinated to the task of preparing children for school, leading to fragmented policy making which does place sufficient importance on children’s social and emotional development during this period. Families and Family Life Family Centres Invest in transforming children’s centres into ‘Family Hubs’ that provide access to integrated local family services. In many parts of the country Children’s Centres have been subject to severe cuts and closure. As a result many services have been lost or reduced and valuable access to suitable buildings has been lost. Family Hubs will enable the surviving centres to develop services that support the entire family across generations and through the different stages of life. Family Test Subject all new government policies to a “Family Test’ that assesses the impact of any initiative on family income, stability and wellbeing. Subjecting all new government policies to a “Family Test” has been muted for many years. In August 2011 following the summer riots David Cameron said about domestic policy making “If it hurts families, if it undermines commitment, if it tramples over the values that keeps people together, or stops families from being together, then we shouldn’t do it.” It is time this pledge was adopted by all political parties and made into a reality. Universal Childcare Fund flexible universal childcare for those aged 0-14 Family life is often complicated, especially balancing the needs of developing children and employment. The complexity of childcare does not end when children start school, in many ways it can often increase with longer travel times and various start and finish times. Supporting flexible childcare for children up to 14 years of age will reduce pressure on families and help provide safe, secure and nourishing environments in which children can relax, play and learn outside standard school hours. Health Positive Mental Health Develop a comprehensive strategy to deliver a universal, non-stigmatising positive mental health programme in children’s centres and schools with clear pathways to targeted support 75% of lifetime mental health disorders have their onset before the age of 18 years and a peak onset between 8 and 15. It could be argued that we, as a nation, are failing young people if we do not consider the development of services, accessible to them in centres with which they will be familiar, enabling support to be readily available. If these services are provided in universal settings i.e schools/children’s centres, then young people will be in a position to access initial support without the need to seek out specialist centres – arguably increasing take up before the need becomes acute -additional focus on reducing the stigma of requiring mental health support would surely produce benefits. Approximately 10% of adolescents are reported to suffer from a mental health problem at any one time and, without sufficient age appropriate services for this age group, outcomes are inevitably less good than one would hope. System Stability Develop a 10 year strategy for the integration of health, social care and education services, based on individual case worker-led approaches This, if implemented, will allow for a settled period of planning and stability of services and service provision. It does rely on subsequent governments (and all political parties) to agree that any policies or initiatives are robust and in line with their wider vision and then resist the temptation to amend them on election to government. It would also mean that any changes came from ‘bottom up’ rather than ‘top down’ reorganisation leading to a greater understanding and buy into any necessary reform. Energy Drinks Ban the sale and consumption of energy drinks on school premises The links between the consumption of energy drinks and reduced attention, behavioural changes and educational attainment are recognised. A 500ml can of a branded energy drink contains 13 teaspoons of sugar and as much caffeine as two cups of coffee leading to a brief high followed by a low. Many schools forbid the sale on their premises, however there needs to be a debate about the enforceability of such a ban and, if the main aim is to stop children and young people consuming these drinks what is the best approach to achieve this? Justice Child Centred Detention Place a duty on anyone arresting or detaining an adult to ask, report and take action if the adult is a primary carer and if a child will be left without immediate care as a result of their arrest or detention Sometimes defendants are sent to prison without having made arrangements for the care of their children who may be unexpectedly left, for example, with a baby sitter, at school or even home alone. It should be the duty of anyone detaining an adult to ensure that they are not endangering the immediate safety of children. Family Centred Sentencing Require courts to take into account a family impact statement at the time of sentencing and provide funding to support families to produce these in all instances in which custody is being considered Prisoners’ children experience increased financial, housing, emotional and health problems during a sentence. Separation from a parent is stressful for children and for the parents left to care alone – they also experience stigma and bullying. A pre-sentence report is not produced in all cases and in any case focusses the prisoner – a separate statement on the impact on the family will ensure that sentencing is carried out based on an understanding of how it will affect any children. Prison as a Last Resort Substantially raise the age of criminal responsibility and custody threshold so that children are only incarcerated where there is evidence that there is a risk of substantial harm to themselves or others Children cannot buy a pet until they are 12, do a paper round until they are 13, consent to sex until they are 16 or drive until they are 17 but at 10 they can face criminal prosecution and acquire criminal records that may remain with them for life. A low age of criminal responsibility plays to a desire for punishment, retribution and toughness and ignores the evidence on the developmental capacity and social needs of children who offend. Children who are convicted of serious offenses usually have high welfare needs – incarceration isolates these children from family, friends and community and places them with other struggling young people. Children are sometimes incarcerated for breaching court orders relating to minor offenses. Incarceration doesn’t work – there are high reoffending rates for children who have been incarcerated. A welfare based approach builds personal and social wellbeing. Looked After Children Family Stability Ensure that all young people have the option to remain in their placement, whatever the placement is, until the age of 21 with support guaranteed until the age of 25 We know stability is a key factor, providing opportunity to experience a feeling of belonging, development of trust, the acceptance that builds self-esteem and feeling understood. We should not be moving young people at crucial times of life. Like any other child they want to stay put in their home whether it is fostering or a children’s home. Meeting Needs Place a duty on local authorities to conduct a needs analysis of their looked after children population and publish a strategy for how to match need to placements locally, regionally and nationally We need to know more about the needs of looked after children if we are to make plans for the right placement at the right time for the right child. Efficient and effective use of resources comes from using one methodology and aggregating the results. Then we can plan for what services and placements we need and where they should be. Skilled Workforce Publish a workforce strategy for delivering a skilled workforce grounded in a thorough understanding of safeguarding, attachment and resilience We must change the fact that our most vulnerable young people are cared for by the least qualified. Despite previous attempts we have never achieved a national workforce strategy. The qualifications we have now are in need of big changes to make them relevant to the needs of children and the tasks undertaken to care for them. We should to be detailing the content and assuring a strategy that will deliver what is needed. Refugees and Migrants Access to Justice Ensure that all children and young people have effective access to justice through the provision of civil legal aid when they need it and regardless of their residence or immigration status This policy addresses the recent restrictions to justice particularly with respect to legal aid and judicial review. It seeks to address the gap in access to civil legal aid created by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 for non-asylum immigration cases and other areas of law as well as anticipating the impact of further restrictions underway with the introduction of a residence test for access to civil legal aid including for judicial review. Protecting the Most Vulnerable Develop and implement a strategy for dealing with unaccompanied migrant children and young people to ensure that their protection, development and long-term best interests are protected, and led by the Department responsible for safeguarding and protecting all children This proposal attempts to address a key gap in policy making for unaccompanied children, which is a lack of a joined up approach focused on children’s welfare, safety and rights. Echoed by the Joint Committee on Human Rights in its recent inquiry in this area, the call is for a holistic ‘best interests first’ approach to policy-making for unaccompanied children. Poverty as a Weapon End the use of forced destitution and homelessness policies and enable all children and families who have international protection needs or cannot leave the UK to access employment, cash-based support and housing to ensure children’s welfare is promoted Subsequent governments have applied this type of approach within immigration policy-making as a means of trying to encourage those with an irregular immigration status to leave the UK. However this has had a significant impact on children’s safety and welfare. The policy proposal aims to provide a basic safety net for all children, regardless of their parents’ status to ensure no child is forced to live in destitution and homelessness. Schools Modern Sex Education Mandate an age appropriate Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) programme for all school age children, grounded in the context of social and emotional education for all children and relevant for the digital age The internet and mass media are rapidly changing the way young people learn about and interact around sex and relationships. This policy calls for Sex and Relationship Education to be updated to reflect the needs of young people in navigating an increasingly complex world in the digital age. Strategic Oversight Introduce directly-elected Strategic Education Commissioners as a new ‘middle tier’ that have responsibility for ensuring sufficient school capacity through the provision of places and training teachers, school improvement and will act as the appeal body for issues related to admissions and exclusions This policy addresses the issue of how support functions (e.g. school places planning, SEN transport, payroll support etc.) might be delivered as the local authority role in education declines. Commissioners would provide a ‘middle tier’ between the Secretary of State and schools which would be directly accountable to parents and help to shape provision on a regional or local basis. Emotional Support Ensure that all children have access to school-based emotional and mental health support There are increasing concerns about the mental health of children and young people, including the pre-teen age group. This policy calls for schools to make emotional and mental health support available to all pupils. Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Focused Health Services Require local health and wellbeing boards to have a defined focus on the delivery and improvement of services for disabled children Health and Wellbeing Boards play an important role in the new health system. They will set the strategic direction for commissioning in health, social care and public health, make recommendations for joint commissioning and integrating services across health and social care and they are intended to strengthen democratic involvement in planning health provision by including elected Councillors on the boards. It is therefore vital they have a focus on improving the delivery and services for disabled children. A Fair Benefits System Exempt families of disabled children from the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) child room sharing rules and apply the extra room allowance for a non-family carer to disabled children Under Local Housing Allowance rules there are a number of rules that dictate that children under a certain age are only entitled to one bedroom between them. For some disabled children sharing a room with a sibling is difficult, if not impossible. Applying the extra room allowance for a non-family carer rules to families of disabled children would help those families make their living arrangements work. VoiceDevelop a programme to provide a cross-Government platform for the voice of disabled children and children with SEN or additional needs in decision-making Disabled children and children with SEN or additional needs are directly affected by many of the policy decisions made in Government departments. However, very rarely are their voices heard by those who make the decisions. This needs to change if policies developed to support disabled children and children with SEN and additional needs are to achieve what they set out to do. Young people Quality Careers Advice Fund high quality face-to-face careers education, information, advice and guidance (CEIAG) for all young people All young people, whatever their route into the world of work, should have the option of accessing face-to-face CEIAG. This will be particularly beneficial for those who are not in employment, education or training. Voice Give 16 and 17 year olds the vote in all public elections There are clear inconsistencies in what is expected of young people. At 16 they can get married, join the armed forces and pay income tax yet have no power to influence the decisions that affect their lives. Allowing votes at 16 would give them this power and inspire them to play an active role in our democracy. Equal Pay for Equal Work Increase the National Minimum Wage rate for those aged under 21 to the same level as those aged 21 and over It is a case of basic fairness that two people doing the same job should be paid the same wage. It is hard to justify a situation where employers can pay young people over 40% less per hour than their older colleagues.