Thank you Manchester!

The Children England team was made to feel very welcome in Manchester yesterday as we gathered colleagues and young people to ask “What does the Children Act 1989 mean to you?” It was wonderful to have so many different perspectives in the room, not least from our three speakers Tommy, Godfred and Carolyne, but also from engaged and passionate youth workers and children’s champions around the room. It felt like a rich historical moment to hear memories of social work before the Children Act, personal experiences of ‘the system’ created by the Act, universal recognition of the importance of children’s rights, and challenges for the future.

Young speaker Tommy at Annual Debate 2019Alongside the consensus that the Act created a clear standard of what is 'right' for children and that we need to fight to protect its provisions, there was also recognition that it didn’t usher in an era of perfection in practice. We have lost – and in some cases never had – some of the ideas and resources needed to ensure the Act supports all children as it should. In a time of deep and widespread poverty, social workers cannot offer families some of the simplest, most direct support they need to look after their children ("It never crossed my mind that driving round with sacks of coal to deliver to families in need WASN'T social work" reflected Carolyne Willow, contrasting her early professional experience with today’s social work) and are not supported to understand the law, or to challenge it. And, even thirty years later, "the care system still doesn’t know what it is to be Black" and institutional racism means Black and minority ethnic families are more likely to suffer poverty, experience mental health issues and be taken into the care system or the justice system.

Some, but by no means all, of the great challenges proposed for the future were:

  • 'Name the beast' – racism.
  • Train social workers on the Act itself and in advocacy.
  • Work with children and young people to shape services and make decisions – there are plenty of mechanisms and platforms enabled by the Act that professionals can use!
  • Frame professional practice in a moral – not technocratic – context. Fewer fads, more empathy.
  • Make social work more diverse, including at management level.
  • Support social workers to speak up when they’re struggling to help children within their families because local services have been cut.
  • Create a Children Act Funding Formula to ensure councils can provide all the services the Act envisaged – from accommodation to laundry services – and not just the 'extreme' interventions.
  • Reinvigorate the collective endeavour that was responsible for Act itself.
  • Read the Act! #IveReadTheAct

Check #ChildrenAct1989 for Tweets from the debate and read the pair of essays we re-published specially for the debate.