THE BLOG

Making Britain Great for Children and Families

16/01/2014 12:20 GMT | Updated 17/03/2014 09:59 GMT

As politicians debate the right way out of the economic difficulties the country is facing, 4Children is sure of two things: firstly that austerity measures can't continue forever and at some stage we will need to begin to rebuild and invest as a country; and secondly, as we do so, that support for children and families is the place to begin.

To be clear, we're also sure that this is about much more than just more money being spent - important though that is. If we are to begin to offer children and families the kind of support they need to flourish, it has to be radically different.

From the way we organise our families' housing and local neighbourhoods, to the way we support the most vulnerable children and families, all the evidence shows that a change of approach is required - to help early rather than later when crisis sets in; to work with families rather than for them; to organise support around families rather than the service itself; and to offer the kind of joined up support that makes sense and is needed, rather than in professional silos, as too often is still the case. Families don't live their lives in neat compartments and neither should the services that are there support them.

And it seems that the public agree. In a 4Children YouGov poll published today, the majority of parents (60%) agree that public services should be aimed at families; 44% of these parents think Britain's services are not good enough for families and need to be dramatically changed; and one in four parents of children under 18 (27%) don't think their neighbourhood is a good place for children to grow up.

It's little wonder that so many children and families are struggling. Whether it's the 67% of parents who are held back in work and employment because of lack of childcare or the 500,000 families who are in or on the edge of crisis with complex problems, the consistent message is that problems could be avoided or resolved if better help were available at the right time.

If we are going to offer children and families the support they need to flourish, we have to do things differently.

As long as the UK continues to lie at the bottom of the UNICEF league table of OECD countries for children's well-being; and rank below countries such as Hungary and Slovakia on particular areas of poor performance, such as our children's risky behaviours, we have cause for concern. As a country, we need to do better and as we emerge from the economic crisis we have the opportunity to do so.

That's why 4Children is publishing a new manifesto for change, Making Britain Great for Children and Families, which calls on national and local leaders to commit to a new ambition for children and families.

The manifesto sets out a proposal for a Family Commitment - nationally and locally. It also sets out various calls to action, across four main themes: a great Britain for all families; great childhoods for all children; good places to grow up in; and transforming the lives of vulnerable families. Together, these form the changes needed to offer children and families the support they need.

The report's specific calls are bold - a Family Test across national and local government to ensure policies are family friendly; a major overhaul of support for vulnerable families, including early on to prevent crisis; a commitment to family friendly planning and public spaces; and a major house building programme of affordable and social housing.

To deliver the local, joined up help we know is needed, we propose that Children's Centres become Children and Family Centres - Hubs, for all children 0-19 and their families with specialist support for vulnerable families. To help parents work, we are calling for a guarantee of comprehensive universal childcare from 0-14, backed up by flexible working and leave. If implemented, we believe there is the opportunity to transform the experiences and life chances of generations to come.

These proposals are not for the faint hearted. They won't be achieved swiftly (although we could start to feel the benefits of changes almost straight away); they will mean real change and challenge to existing cultures and practices; and they will require some investment (although much is about spending better and there will also be huge savings to come). But if we are serious about making Britain great for children and families we need a major shift in ambition.

If we want to give our children the aspiration and ability to flourish as individuals, and give families the support they need, we must, as a society, radically change this country's system of support - especially for those that are most in need. We must redesign our communities for Britain's children and families of the future.