THE BLOG

We Have to Start Thinking 'Less'

14/03/2016 14:26 GMT | Updated 13/03/2017 09:12 GMT

Professionally we grew up, our children's services and child care theory and practice developed, in times of plenty, and by extension, of certainty

We never dreamed we would one day dread the implications of a world where plenty and certainty were not present.

We wrote about deprivation and loss secure in the thinking that there was always enough to salve these damaging childhood experiences.

And now there isn't.

Bowlby and Winnicott, closely observing parenting and child development and advising on addressing the effects of loss and separation during wartime and after, might be seen as creating a path to a newer post World War Two definition of 'good-enough.'

The shadow might be that they were also escaping from a wider reality by providing their explanations of what was happening. They were writing after a time of greatest uncertainty and towards a time where there would be universal well-being. They were accompanied by others making such things real too, the NHS and Education Acts for example.

Our times are very different. Though we might think some aspects the same, they are different. Then the prospect was of improvement. Our time is of decline; even staying the same is to decline as there is no growth yet demands grow with care applications rising.

At every turn we face uncertainty. We have not faced having long term no growth before. This is unsettling. Equally we face having less.

Even last year it was said we have to do more for less, the message being we have more demands and a finite amount of funds so we need to make every penny count. We need to do more so we will front load into early intervention. We have to drive down costs in all other following services. All that follows early intervention will be seen as expensive in comparison.

Now it is more with less. Now it is a choice of who will get support and who will not. From recent reports even early intervention is disappearing. Now it doesn't matter if you can work faster or cheaper it still may mean your contribution is irrelevant or unaffordable.

Meanwhile the choices made during recent years start maturing. Children's homes are seeing that the needs of children coming to them are increasingly complex, often this stems from too long trying out too many community or family based services and placements that reach breakdown. The regulator Ofsted scrutinises children's homes closely. Homes are carefully considering all young people, some are now being seen as beyond the support a children's home can give. Being evaluated as Good in inspection matters. Local authorities will always look to place in homes that are Good. Only Good is good enough. A child who places Good ratings at risk is a risky child to accept.

To meet these needs requires further staff, consultancy and workforce development. All children's homes now have to be specialist. A children's home isn't only about upbringing but must offer structured purposeful assessed intervention in a young person's life.

More is asked of, and being delivered, as evidenced by positive inspection outcomes rising across our children's homes.

Our previous stance of the way we know to meet need is called into question, 'How can you in a time of austerity ask for what has been expected before?'

If we approach an answer in monetary terms there isn't an adequate response. That way there isn't a dialogue possible and learning won't be possible. It's a binary agree/disagree. Frustration at there not being 'enough' and, from the other way, with those not able to stay within the cost envelope or unable to make the required reductions.

We have exhausted more with less. Now we enter less with less. Now austerity means we will have less funding so we will have less support.

More for less is a slimming measure; more with less is an active stringent diet. Less with less is nil by mouth. I can hear some people singing Bon Jovi 'Living on air' as a manic defence.

Only if we continue to assert a needs-led approach can we converse further. This means sticking with painful feelings of loss, we cope with them through our reasoned approach. It is only by doing so that we can foresee the world that is the other side of austerity.

The world the other side of austerity needs describing; it needs values and vision to carry people through these hard times. For Government all is contingent and by the absence of values and vision, perhaps we are left thinking, 'For what world are we giving up the world we have known?' The Government's world is an unknown unknown. It is as much make believe as the asking for more in a time of austerity.

What sort of vision and values might be helpful in sustaining us? Do we know what the Government thinks a 'child' is? Or what makes a 'good childhood'? If we do how is it that being delivered?

We might know what the Government sees as parenting - but this is from the Department for Work and Pensions rather than the Department for Education. One of the first acts of the Coalition Government was to retitle the Department for Children, Schools and Families to be the Department for Education. There is a Minister for Children but the loss of the inclusion of Children and Families is significant, subsumed under Education but also in practice devolved outwards to Department for Work and Pensions, and maybe Department of Health. A good case could be made for a Minister for Children with a desk in all Ministries. If Austerity is not about creating a better world for our children to inherit than is offered now what is it about?

Where is austerity taking us?

So rather than chase a pound down the road where more for less became more with less on the way to less with less, I'd prefer us to debate questions such as may have been asked by Bowlby and Winnicott if they were still with us, 'What is 'good-enough' in today's world?' 'Has the threshold of an ordinary devoted parent changed?' 'What is the involvement of Government in the corporate parenting of our future generations?'

One of the greatest social inventions has been that there can be a world of plenty and for it to be experienced universally. Has this imagination and commitment and social solidarity gone? If so where has it gone? Can it be regained? During wartime Churchill created a necessary social cohesion. Post war this was taken onwards by the Atlee Government. A new social contract was established. So another question arises, 'What now is the social contract?' 'Is the term 'social' one the Government project is concerned with?' I suspect it is but as Bones would say to Captain Kirk 'not in the way we know it.'

There isn't a starship going to beam us up. There is only here and now.

And tomorrow.

How much less can we take? How much less will you take? After less what comes next?

What evidence is there that after less comes more?