THE BLOG

Charities in Our Society

07/04/2016 16:42 | Updated 07 April 2016

In a perfect world, we wouldn't need charities. I firmly believe that charities should aim to solve the problem they were set up to solve and then cease to exist. But until that happens I also firmly believe that charities have a hugely important role to play in our society.

Charities, like private and public sector organisations, come in all shapes and sizes and have a very wide range of remits from delivering healthcare, social care or educational programmes to campaigning because something in policy or law is not working. What all charities should have in common is that they exist because there is a need and their mission is to address that need. The law says that a charity must be 'established for charitable purposes only' and this purpose must be 'for the public benefit'. At Action for Children, these are not just legal requirements, they are the standards to which we hold ourselves.

But charities are so much more than that: just imagine where we would be today without charities that spearhead research into cancer, that work to relieve the grinding poverty of hope and expectation that affects so many billions around the world, that support children who are abused and neglected.

The charity sector has come under a lot of scrutiny in the last few years and rightly so. The public has a right, just like a shareholder in a commercial company, to know where and how funds are spent, and what the benefits and impact of this expenditure should be. Indeed, transparency about our impact, our income and, yes, our pay should be something that we as charities welcome and embrace.

Like many charities with a long history Action for Children is a very different organisation today than when we were founded in 1869. Our founder Thomas Bowman Stephenson saw the plight and poverty of London's homeless children and asked them what he could do to help. The answer was simply "Do what you can for us, Sir." Nearly 150 years later, the language has changed but the sentiment and spirit of what we do remains the same.

Poverty and disadvantage still exists. Not all children have a safe, happy and loving family life and the life chance gap between some children and their peers is not closing. We have developed and grown according to the need around us and adapted how we work to make the greatest impact we can in today's society. The children's sector is seeing unprecedented demand for frontline services and the complexity and severity of need is increasing. The effects of government spending cuts are also taking hold in communities across the country, meaning that the voluntary sector must step up and play an even more important role.

Much of what we do is through local authority contracts, where we deliver the service on behalf of the local authority. Working in this way means we can reach more children and make a tangible difference to their lives. I am hugely proud of this work and know that it fits squarely within our purpose and mission. But we want to do more still. While the majority of the funding that Action for Children receives comes from the work we undertake for local authorities, we are working hard to grow our voluntary income so that we can innovate and deliver even more services.

One such service is Family Partners, a programme which is wholly funded by income generated by an amazing group of women, Women Taking Action, who give up their time and exert their efforts and energy into raising money to help give families a family life. I had the honour of introducing HRH the Duchess of Cambridge to this project in 2015 and I know that she was both moved and impressed by what she saw.

The Family Partners programme tackles neglect. It's an intensive early support programme for a whole family, where children are at risk of neglect. A key worker works closely with the family to make positive changes in their lives and to stop their situation from escalating to crisis point where children might be taken into care because their lives could be in danger. There is a solid body of evidence that shows how powerful an impact the programme has had. There is a huge tangible difference both to the family and society.

If you ask people why they work in the charity sector you tend to get variations on one answer: "I want to do something worthwhile, good, meaningful. I want to make a difference". To the more cynically minded, it sounds trite. But that is why we are all here. Whether you're on the ground with direct contact or if you're an accountant, a project manager or a web editor, choosing the charity sector is about how your role can affect the lives of others for the better.

As a large charity, we must ask ourselves every day what more we could and should be doing to help children and young people become the adults of tomorrow. When I go round the country meeting with and talking to the people who come to us for support, I know that, just as in 1869, we are still challenging ourselves to go the extra mile and still making a difference that matters.

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