13/12/2013 13:46 GMT | Updated 12/02/2014 05:59 GMT

Parents' Problems Hit Children the Hardest in Tough Economic Times

Action for Children, like many other leading UK children's charities, was founded in the late 19th Century as part of the great philanthropic explosion of the period.

After nine years, I am leaving and have been reflecting on what it means to head up this kind of organisation. First and foremost, given our history, it is important to remember that I have been just a custodian, a steward of this enduring organisation.

Like others before and after me it is important to be looking always for the emerging challenges for children and families that we must tackle. This takes adaptability and fortitude, insight and perseverance. Thinking about now, not only do developments in areas such as technology and social media present growing risks (as well as tremendous opportunities) to children, but the current wider social and economic landscape adds to the pressures they face; poverty and parents who struggle always have and always will impact on children profoundly, which is why it's so important these families get the help they need from organisations like ours.

Action for Children has weathered recessions since it was founded in 1869 and, for the children and families we work with, this 21st Century version has been one of the worst. During the past year we have seen children needing more support with issues their families are facing than ever before and the statistics are heart-breaking.

56% of staff in our projects say children are in need of more support because of their parents' inability to find enough work. Nearly the same amount - 54% - saw children struggling more because of parental mental illness. 30% said children needed more help because of parental substance misuse.

These figures are sobering enough on their own, but what's even more worrying is that as children's problems at home deepen, budgets for early support - support that could help their families avoid reaching a crisis point, where drastic action, such as taking children into care, must be taken - are disappearing.

If we are unable to help a child as soon as difficulties emerge, we run the risk of issues escalating out of control. There must be a stronger, more consistent emphasis on early intervention services, with long-term funding plans in place for this support.

While Action for Children has seen this before - belts tightening, services squeezed, and children bearing the brunt - this repetition must not lead to complacency. Rather, it should strengthen our resolve to act. We are constantly asking ourselves, are we doing all we can to help children? Are we providing sufficient levels of the right kind of support? Are we working with parents enough and in ways that will improve the lives of their children? Most fundamentally, possibly, are we doing all that we can to reach the children who need it the most?

This is, of course, a continuous dialogue that children's charities must have with themselves, both in and out of economic recessions. Funding may rise and fall and the specific struggles that families face might change, but our resolve to ensure the most disadvantaged children have better lives remains a constant, enduring mission.

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